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Behavioural alteration in chronic pain: are brain glia involved?
Behavioural symptoms such as abnormal emotionality (including anxious and depressive episodes) and cognition (for instance weakened decision-making) are highly frequent in both chronic pain patients and their animal models. The theory developed in the present article posits that alterations in glial cells (astrocytes and microglia) in cortical and limbic brain regions might be the origin of such emotional and cognitive chronic pain-associated impairments. Indeed, in mood disorders (unipolar depression, anxiety disorders, autism or schizophrenia) glial changes in brain regions involved in mood control (prefrontal and cingulate cortices, amygdala and the hippocampus) have been recurrently described. Besides, glial cells have been undoubtedly identified as key actors in the sensory component of chronic pain, owing to the profound phenotypical changes they undergo throughout the sensory pathway. Hence, the possibility arises that brain astrocytes and microglia react in upper brain structures as well, mediating the related mood and cognitive dysfunctions in chronic pain. So far, only very few studies have provided results in this prospect, mainly indirectly in pain-independent researches. Nevertheless, the first scant available data seem to merge in a unified description of a brain glial reaction occurring after chronic peripheral lesion. The present article uses this scarce literature to formulate the provocative theory of a glia-driven mood and cognitive dysfunction in chronic pain, expounding upon its validity and putative therapeutical impact as well as its current limitations and expected future developments.
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