Nerve growth factor signaling and its contribution to pain

Philip A. Barker, Patrick Mantyh, Lars Arendt-Nielsen, Lars Viktrup, Leslie Tive

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Nerve growth factor (NGF) is a neurotrophic protein essential for the growth, differentiation, and survival of sympathetic and sensory afferent neurons during development. A substantial body of evidence, based on both animal and human studies, demonstrates that NGF plays a pivotal role in modulation of nociception in adulthood. This has spurred development of a variety of novel analgesics that target the NGF signaling pathway. Here, we present a narrative review designed to summarize how NGF receptor activation and downstream signaling alters nociception through direct sensitization of nociceptors at the site of injury and changes in gene expression in the dorsal root ganglion that collectively increase nociceptive signaling from the periphery to the central nervous system. This review illustrates that NGF has a well-known and multifunctional role in nociceptive processing, although the precise signaling pathways downstream of NGF receptor activation that mediate nociception are complex and not completely understood. Additionally, much of the existing knowledge derives from studies performed in animal models and may not accurately represent the human condition. However, available data establish a role for NGF in the modulation of nociception through effects on the release of inflammatory mediators, nociceptive ion channel/receptor activity, nociceptive gene expression, and local neuronal sprouting. The role of NGF in nociception and the generation and/or maintenance of chronic pain has led to it becoming a novel and attractive target of pain therapeutics for the treatment of chronic pain conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1223-1241
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Pain Research
StatePublished - 2020


  • Chronic pain
  • Nerve growth factor
  • Nociception
  • Sensitization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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