Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology Volume 177, 2007, pp 145-177

Anti-convulsants and Anti-depressants

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Abstract

Damage to a nerve should only lead to sensory loss. While this is common, the incidence of spontaneous pain, allodynia and hyperalgesia indicate marked changes in the nervous system that are possible compensations for the loss of normal function that arises from the sensory loss. Neuropathic pain arises from changes in the damaged nerve which then alter function in the spinal cord and the brain and lead to plasticity in areas adjacent to those directly influenced by the neuropathy. The peripheral changes drive central compensations so that the mechanisms involved are multiple and located at a number of sites. Nerve damage increases the excitability of both the damaged and undamaged nerve fibres, neuromas and the cell bodies in the dorsal root ganglion. These peripheral changes are substrates for the ongoing pain and the efficacy of excitability blockers such as carbamazepine, lamotrigine and mexiletine, all anti-convulsants. A better understanding of ion channels at the sites of injury has shown important roles of particular sodium, potassium and calcium channels in the genesis of neuropathic pain. Within the spinal cord, increases in the activity of calcium channels and the receptors for glutamate, especially the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor, trigger wind-up and central hyperexcitability. Increases in transmitter release, neuronal excitability and receptive field size result from the damage to the peripheral nerves. Ketamine and gabapentin/pregabalin, again with anticonvulsant activity, may interact with these mechanisms. Ketamine acts on central spinal mechanisms of excitability whereas gabapentin acts on a subunit of calcium channels that is responsible for the release of pain transmitters into the spinal cord. In addition to these spinal mechanisms of hyperexcitability, spinal cells participate in a spinal-supraspinal loop that involves parts of the brain involved in affective responses to pain but also engages descending excitatory and inhibitory systems that use the monoamines. These pathways become more active after nerve injury and are the site of action of anti-depressants. This chapter reviews the evidence and mechanisms of drugs, both anti-depressants and anticonvulsants, that are believed to be effective in pain control, with a major emphasis on the neuropathic state.