Pain is one of the most common reasons for a person to visit a healthcare provider. Many ailments usually have at least one associated symptom that is painful. Understanding the complex circuitry allowing one to detect pain is essential in understanding the cause of that pain and how to effectively treat it.
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To date, pain is mainly able to be treated by suppressing inflammation, or by blocking the signal of pain entirely. A special family of channels, transient receptor potential (TRP) channels, has been identified as being primarily responsible for the initial detection and transmission of an electrical signal initiated by a painful stimulus. This review will discuss the role these channels play in detecting different types of painful stimuli, possible ways to antagonize these channels to alleviate pain, and future endeavors that could be of importance in coming to a better understanding of these channels and how they can possibly be manipulated to treat both acute and chronic pain. While the initial thought of pain is undesirable, one must understand the importance and significance such an undesirable sensation has on injury prevention. Without the sensation of pain, one would not be able recognize a situation or stimulus as being painful, and could therefore lack the ability to prevent further bodily harm or tissue damage. Pain, itself, must first be understood before going any further.
Pain can be defined as the sensation perceived at the level of the brain derived from signals carried via nociceptors after being stimulated by injurious stimuli. Nociceptors are the peripheral afferent neurons which carry pain signals from affected tissue to the central nervous system. Pain can be divided into two different categories: nociceptive pain and neuropathic pain. Nociceptive pain originates due to some sort of injury induced stimulation. Neuropathic pain results from an injury of the actual nervous system, either central or peripheral. Neuropathic pain is initiated or caused by abnormal firing of the nociceptor or a neuron further upstream due to a primary lesion or dysfunction in the nervous system (Closs et al., 2009). These lesions or states of dysfunction can be due to a number of illnesses (diabetes, multiple sclerosis, stroke, etc) or inflammation, however, a common example of this subset of pain is phantom limb syndrome. Phantom limb syndrome is the sensation of pain resulting from the amputation of a limb. The resulting pain is thought to be at least partially due to the lesion on the nociceptor which now will function abnormally. Making this distinction between nociceptive and neuropathic pain is important clinically and pharmacologically. Methods used to treat the more well known and understood nociceptive pain are generally different than those used to treat neuropathic pain, which often involves several pathways and mechanisms.
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