Visceral pain is commonly associated with acute or remitting inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). In marked contrast, chronic IBD is often painless, even in the presence of active inflammation. This suggests that inflammation in itself is insufficient to sustain altered nociceptive signaling and raises the possibility that there is an endogenous analgesic system in effect in chronic disease. A new study by Basso et al. published in this issue of Neurogastroenterology & Motility provides additional support for an immune-mediated mechanism that suppresses visceral hypersensitivity. The authors examined visceral pain in the IL-10-piroxicam model of chronic colitis, which differs from other experimental IBD models in that it involves immune suppression. During active inflammation, responses by these mice to graded increases in colorectal distension were equivalent to healthy controls, consistent with normal afferent signaling. However, treatment with a peripherally restricted opioid receptor antagonist resulted in marked visceral hypersensitivity to the same stimuli. This effect was attributed to the production of endogenous opioids by colitogenic CD4+ T cells present in the mucosa. This mini-review provides a brief overview of analgesia by immune-derived opioids under inflammatory conditions and highlights how the work of Basso et al. contributes to this area of research. Potential pharmacological approaches to harness or mimic this system are provided. These strategies may prove to be an effective means through which targeted and sustained relief of IBD pain may be achieved.
- immune cells
- visceral pain