Targeting chronic and neuropathic pain: The N-type calcium channel comes of age
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The rapid entry of calcium into cells through activation of voltage-gated calcium channels directly affects membrane potential and contributes to electrical excitability, repetitive firing patterns, excitation-contraction coupling, and gene expression. At presynaptic nerve terminals, calcium entry is the initial trigger mediating the release of neurotransmitters via the calcium-dependent fusion of synaptic vesicles and involves interactions with the soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive factor attachment protein receptor complex of synaptic release proteins. Physiological factors or drugs that affect either presynaptic calcium channel activity or the efficacy of calcium-dependent vesicle fusion have dramatic consequences on synaptic transmission, including that mediating pain signaling. The N-type calcium channel exhibits a number of characteristics that make it an attractive target for therapeutic intervention concerning chronic and neuropathic pain conditions. Within the past year, both U.S. and European regulatory agencies have approved the use of the cationic peptide Priait for the treatment of intractable pain. Priait is the first N-type calcium channel blocker approved for clinical use and represents the first new proven mechanism of action for chronic pain intervention in many years. The present review discusses the rationale behind targeting the N-type calcium channel, some of the limitations confronting the widespread clinical application of Priait, and outlines possible strategies to improve upon Prialt’s relatively narrow therapeutic window.