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The Sympathetic Nervous System and Pain

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Abstract

The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and pain interact on many levels of the neuraxis. In healthy subjects, activation of the SNS in the brain usually suppresses pain mainly by descending inhibition of nociceptive transmission in the spinal cord. Furthermore, some experimental data even suggest that the SNS might control peripheral inflammation and nociceptive activation. However, even subtle changes in pathophysiology can dramatically change the effect of SNS on pain, and vice versa. In the periphery, inflammation or nociceptive activation is enhanced, spinal descending inhibition is reversed to spinal facilitation, and finally the awareness of all these changes will induce anxiety, which furthermore amplifies pain perception, affects pain behavior, and depresses mood. Unraveling the detailed molecular mechanisms of how this interaction of SNS and pain is established in health and disease will help us to treat pain more successfully in the future.

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Supported by the German Research Foundation, DFG Bi 579/1 and Bi 579/4 to F.B.

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Correspondence to Frank Birklein.

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Schlereth, T., Birklein, F. The Sympathetic Nervous System and Pain. Neuromol Med 10, 141–147 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12017-007-8018-6

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