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Frontiers in Neuroscience




Frontiers Media

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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Opioids remain among the most effective pain-relieving therapeutics. However, their long-term use is limited due to the development of tolerance and potential for addiction. For many years, researchers have explored the underlying mechanisms that lead to this decreased effectiveness of opioids after repeated use, and numerous theories have been proposed to explain these changes. The most widely studied theories involve alterations in receptor trafficking and intracellular signaling. Other possible mechanisms include the recruitment of new structural neuronal and microglia networks. While many of these theories have been developed using molecular and cellular techniques, more recent behavioral data also supports these findings. In this review, we focus on the mechanisms that underlie tolerance within the descending pain modulatory pathway, including alterations in intracellular signaling, neural-glial interactions, and neurotransmission following opioid exposure. Developing a better understanding of the relationship between these various mechanisms, within different parts of this pathway, is vital for the identification of more efficacious, novel therapeutics to treat chronic pain.

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