New mechanism behind appearance and continuation of pain has been uncovered by researchers at the Institute for Neurosciences of Montpellier (INSERM/Université de Montpellier) and the Laboratory for Therapeutic Innovation (CNRS/Université de Strasbourg).
Neuropathic pain is a chronic illness affecting 7-10% the population in France and for which there is no effective treatment. This study appears on 12 March 2018 in Nature Communications.
French researchers have just revealed the unexpected role played by the molecule FLT3 in chronic pain, known for its role in different blood functions and produced by the hematopoietic stem cells which generate all blood cells. Neuropathic pain is caused by a lesion in peripheral nerves due to diseases such as diabetes, cancer, or shingles, or to accident- or surgery related trauma. In this study, researchers showed that immune cells in the blood which flood the nerve at the site of the lesion synthesise and release another molecule, FL, which binds with and activates FLT3, triggering a chain reaction in the sensory system, causing pain. It was revealed that FLT3 induces and maintains pain by acting far upstream on other components in the sensory system which are known for making pain chronic (known as "chronicization").
Neuropathic pain, which affects approximately 4 million people in France, is a debilitating disease with significant social costs. Current forms of treatment, essentially based on off-label uses of medication such as anti-depressants and anti-epileptics, are ineffective: less than 50% of patients obtain a significant reduction in pain. Furthermore, such treatments can cause important side effects. Innovative therapies based on this research are being developed by Biodol Therapeutics, a start-up firm which may, as a result, design the first specific therapy against neuropathic pain, and, in the long term, provide relief to many people.