, Volume 60, Issue 5, pp 1029-1052
Date: 17 Sep 2012

Anticonvulsants for Neuropathic Pain Syndromes

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Abstract

Neuropathic pain, a form of chronic pain caused by injury to or disease of the peripheral or central nervous system, is a formidable therapeutic challenge to clinicians because it does not respond well to traditional pain therapies. Our knowledge about the pathogenesis of neuropathic pain has grown significantly over last 2 decades. Basic research with animal and human models of neuropathic pain has shown that a number of pathophysiological and biochemical changes take place in the nervous system as a result of an insult. This property of the nervous system to adapt morphologically and functionally to external stimuli is known as neuroplasticity and plays a crucial role in the onset and maintenance of pain symptoms. Many similarities between the pathophysiological phenomena observed in some epilepsy models and in neuropathic pain models justify the rational for use of anticonvulsant drugs in the symptomatic management of neuropathic pain disorders.

Carbamazepine, the first anticonvulsant studied in clinical trials, probably alleviates pain by decreasing conductance in Na+ channels and inhibiting ectopic discharges. Results from clinical trials have been positive in the treatment of trigeminal neuralgia, painful diabetic neuropathy and postherpetic neuralgia.

The availability of newer anticonvulsants tested in higher quality clinical trials has marked a new era in the treatment of neuropathic pain. Gabapentin has the most clearly demonstrated analgesic effect for the treatment of neuropathic pain, specifically for treatment of painful diabetic neuropathy and postherpetic neuralgia. Based on the positive results of these studies and its favourable adverse effect profile, gabapentin should be considered the first choice of therapy for neuropathic pain.

Evidence for the efficacy of phenytoin as an antinociceptive agent is, at best, weak to modest. Lamotrigine has good potential to modulate and control neuropathic pain, as shown in 2 controlled clinical trials, although another randomised trial showed no effect. There is potential for phenobarbital, clonazepam, valproic acid, topiramate, pregabalin and tiagabine to have antihyperalgesic and antinociceptive activities based on result in animal models of neuropathic pain, but the efficacy of these drugs in the treatment of human neuropathic pain has not yet been fully determined in clinical trials.

The role of anticonvulsant drugs in the treatment of neuropathic pain is evolving and has been clearly demonstrated with gabapentin and carbamazepine. Further advances in our understanding of the mechanisms underlying neuropathic pain syndromes and well-designed clinical trials should further the opportunities to establish the role of anticonvulsants in the treatment of neuropathic pain.