Rescue of noradrenergic system as a novel pharmacological strategy in the treatment of chronic pain: Focus on microglia activation

Filippo Caraci, Sara Merlo, Filippo Drago, Giuseppe Caruso, Carmela Parenti, Maria Angela Sortino

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


Different types of pain can evolve toward a chronic condition characterized by hyperalgesia and allodynia, with an abnormal response to normal or even innocuous stimuli, respectively. A key role in endogenous analgesia is recognized to descending noradrenergic pathways that originate from the locus coeruleus and project to the dorsal horn of the spinal cord. Impairment of this system is associated with pain chronicization. More recently, activation of glial cells, in particular microglia, toward a pro-inflammatory state has also been implicated in the transition from acute to chronic pain. Both α2- and β2-adrenergic receptors are expressed in microglia, and their activation leads to acquisition of an anti-inflammatory phenotype. This review analyses in more detail the interconnection between descending noradrenergic system and neuroinflammation, focusing on drugs that, by rescuing the noradrenergic control, exert also an anti-inflammatory effect, ultimately leading to analgesia. More specifically, the potential efficacy in the treatment of neuropathic pain of different drugs will be analyzed. On one side, drugs acting as inhibitors of the reuptake of serotonin and noradrenaline, such as duloxetine and venlafaxine, and on the other, tapentadol, inhibitor of the reuptake of noradrenaline, and agonist of the µ-opioid receptor.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1024
JournalFrontiers in Pharmacology
Issue numberSEP
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2019



  • Microglia
  • Neuroinflammation
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors
  • µ-opioid receptor agonists

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)

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