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What research is currently being done on CRPS?

The mission of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) is to seek fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system and to use that knowledge to reduce the burden of neurological disease.  The NINDS is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the leading supporter of biomedical research in the world.

NINDS-supported scientists are studying new approaches to treat CRPS and to intervene more aggressively to limit the symptoms and disability associated with the syndrome.  Other NIH institutes also support research on CRPS and other painful conditions.

Previous research has shown that CRPS-related inflammation is caused by the body’s own immune response.  Researchers hope to better understand how CRPS develops by studying immune system activation and peripheral nerve signaling using an animal model of the disorder.  The animal model was developed to mimic certain CRPS-like features following fracture or limb surgery, by activating certain molecules involved in the immune system process.         

Limb trauma, such as a fracture, followed by immobilization in a cast, is the most common cause of CRPS.  By studying an animal model, researchers hope to better understand the neuroinflammatory basis of CRPS in order to identify the relevant inflammatory signaling pathways that lead to the development of post-traumatic CRPS.  They also will examine inflammatory effects of cast immobilization and exercise on the development of pain behaviors and CRPS symptoms.       

Peripheral nerve injury and subsequent regeneration often lead to a variety of sensory changes.  Researchers hope to identify specific cellular and molecular changes in sensory neurons following peripheral nerve injury to better understand the processes that underlie neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to reorganize or form new nerve connections and pathways following injury or death of nerve cells).  Identifying these mechanisms could provide targets for new drug therapies that could improve recovery following regeneration.         

Children and adolescents with CRPS generally have a better prognosis than adults, which may provide insights into mechanisms that can prevent chronic pain.  Scientists are studying children with CRPS given that their brains are more adaptable through a mechanism known as neuroplasticity.  Scientists hope to use these discoveries in order to develop more effective therapies for CRPS.

NINDS-funded scientists continue to investigate how inflammation and the release of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) may induce abnormal connections and signaling between sympathetic and sensory nerve cells in chronic pain conditions such as CRPS. (ATP is a molecule involved with energy production within cells that can also act as a neurotransmitter.  Neurotransmitters are chemicals used by nervous system cells to communicate with one another.)  A better understanding of changes in nerve connections following peripheral nerve injury may offer greater insight to pain and lead to new treatments.

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