Physiological Reviews

Calcium-Permeable Ion Channels in Pain Signaling

Emmanuel Bourinet, Christophe Altier, Michael E. Hildebrand, Tuan Trang, Michael W. Salter, Gerald W. Zamponi

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The detection and processing of painful stimuli in afferent sensory neurons is critically dependent on a wide range of different types of voltage- and ligand-gated ion channels, including sodium, calcium, and TRP channels, to name a few. The functions of these channels include the detection of mechanical and chemical insults, the generation of action potentials and regulation of neuronal firing patterns, the initiation of neurotransmitter release at dorsal horn synapses, and the ensuing activation of spinal cord neurons that project to pain centers in the brain. Long-term changes in ion channel expression and function are thought to contribute to chronic pain states. Many of the channels involved in the afferent pain pathway are permeable to calcium ions, suggesting a role in cell signaling beyond the mere generation of electrical activity. In this article, we provide a broad overview of different calcium-permeable ion channels in the afferent pain pathway and their role in pain pathophysiology.

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