Volume 177 of the series Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology pp 95-127

Local Anesthetics

  • F. YanagidateAffiliated withPain Research Center, BWH/MRB611
  • , G. R. StrichartzAffiliated withPain Research Center, BWH/MRB611 Email author 

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Local anesthetics are used broadly to prevent or reverse acute pain and treat symptoms of chronic pain. This chapter, on the analgesic aspects of local anesthetics, reviews their broad actions that affect many different molecular targets and disrupt their functions in pain processing. Application of local anesthetics to peripheral nerve primarily results in the blockade of propagating action potentials, through their inhibition of voltage-gated sodium channels. Such inhibition results from drug binding at a site in the channel’s inner pore, accessible from the cytoplasmic opening. Binding of drug molecules to these channels depends on their conformation, with the drugs generally having a higher affinity for the open and inactivated channel states that are induced by membrane depolarization. As a result, the effective potency of these drugs for blocking impulses increases during high-frequency repetitive firing and also under slow depolarization, such as occurs at a region of nerve injury, which is often the locus for generation of abnormal, pain-related ectopic impulses. At distal and central terminals the inhibition of voltage-gated calcium channels by local anesthetics will suppress neurogenic inflammation and the release of neurotransmitters. Actions on receptors that contribute to nociceptive transduction, such as TRPV1 and the bradykinin B2 receptor, provide an independent mode of analgesia. In the spinal cord, where local anesthetics are present during epidural or intrathecal anesthesia, inhibition of inotropic receptors, such as those for glutamate, by local anesthetics further interferes with neuronal transmission. Activation of spinal cord mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinases, which are essential for the hyperalgesia following injury or incision and occur in both neurons and glia, is inhibited by spinal local anesthetics. Many G protein-coupled receptors are susceptible to local anesthetics, with particular sensitivity of those coupled via the Gq α-subunit. Local anesthetics are also infused intravenously to yield plasma concentrations far below those that block normal action potentials, yet that are frequently effective at reversing neuropathic pain. Thus, local anesthetics modify a variety of neuronal membrane channels and receptors, leading to what is probably a synergistic mixture of analgesic mechanisms to achieve effective clinical analgesia.


Ion channels Action potentials Nociception G protein-coupled receptors MAP kinases