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Spinal Nerve Cells May Play a Role in Pain Related to IC/BPS

Liu B, Su M, Tang S, Zhou X, Zhan H, Yang F, Li W, Li T, Xie J. Spinal astrocytic activation contributes to mechanical allodynia in a rat model of cyclophosphamide-induced cystitis. Mol Pain. 2016 Nov 15;12. pii: 1744806916674479. Print 2016.

Visceral pain (or pain that comes from the internal organs) is often the most concerning symptom for patients with interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome (IC/BPS). Little is known about what causes visceral pain in IC/BPS, but some researchers think certain neural mechanisms may play a role. Previously, some research groups have shown that the glial cell, a specific type of cell found in the central nervous system, may be implicated in pain associated with damaged nerve fibers; when they are activated, these cells produce inflammatory factors and have other activity that may contribute to development of pain. Accordingly, this group of researchers decided to evaluate the potential role of glial cells in the spine in causing IC/BPS-related pain. Using a rat model of IC/BPS, the researchers were not able to demonstrate activation of microglia cells. However, they did detect activation of astrocytes (star-shaped nerve cells) in the spines of the rats. In addition, they found a marked increase in an inflammatory substance, IL-1β, and determined that the astrocytes were the only source of this release. Based on that, they hypothesized that IL-1β, released from astrocytes, might be a key precursor step that leads to neuronal excitement and pain. There are no immediate clinical implications of these findings; however, these findings may give researchers some incentive to explore inhibition of spinal astrocytes as a new treatment approach for pain related to IC/BPS.