Recent evidence has been accumulating that suggests that hyperbaric oxygen can improve neuropathic pain, or pain that results from injuries to the central or peripheral nervous systems. Despite increasing evidence for the value of hyperbaric oxygen in pain management, there has been little clarity on how hyperbaric oxygen confers its benefits. A recent study, published in the American Journal of Translational Research, aimed to investigate the mechanisms by which hyperbaric oxygen relieves neuropathic pain. Given that the traditional treatments for neuropathic pain are associated with adverse side effects, the researchers hoped to improve understanding of neuropathic pain so that better treatment options can be developed.
Prior to this experiment, hyperbaric oxygen treatment had been shown to preserve the integrity of muscle and nerves and also to inhibit the activation of astrocytes, among other activities that could be relevant for its impact on neuropathic pain. Indeed, astrocytes, for instance, are known to modulate pain. For this study, the scientists hypothesized that hyperbaric oxygen treatment is able to help with neuropathic pain largely based on its impact on autophagy. Autophagy refers to the way that cells protect themselves from harmful stimuli and environments. Once nerve injury occurs, autophagy is impaired.
The researchers showed that indeed, hyperbaric oxygen treatment was able to reduce the autophagy impairment that results from nerve injury. They further showed the specific way that this reduction occurred, which was through the inhibition of a specific pathway called the mTOR pathway. These findings provide support for the potential use of hyperbaric oxygen in the treatment of neuropathic pain. Future research will help to elucidate if and precisely how this approach can be used to help those who suffer from this type of injury-induced pain.
Liu, Y.D., Wang, Z.B., Han, G., & Zhao, P. (2017). Hyperbaric oxygen treatment attenuates neuropathic pain by elevating autophagy flux via inhibiting mTOR pathway. American Journal of Translational Research, 9(5), 2529-2648.