• antinociceptive;
  • botulinum;
  • pain;
  • mechanism

The neurotoxin, botulinum toxin type A, has been used successfully, in some patients, as an analgesic for myofascial pain syndromes, migraine, and other headache types. The toxin inhibits the release of the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, at the neuromuscular junction thereby inhibiting striated muscle contractions. In the majority of pain syndromes where botulinum toxin type A is effective, inhibiting muscle spasms is an important component of its activity. Even so, the reduction of pain often occurs before the decrease in muscle contractions suggesting that botulinum toxin type A has a more complex mechanism of action than initially hypothesized. Current data points to an antinociceptive effect of botulinum toxin type A that is separate from its neuromuscular activity. The common biochemical mechanism, however, remains the same between botulinum toxin type A's effect on the motor nerve or the sensory nerve: enzymatic blockade of neurotransmitter release. The antinociceptive effect of the toxin was reported to block substance P release using in vitro culture systems.1

The current investigation evaluated the in vivo mechanism of action for the antinociceptive action of botulinum toxin type A. In these studies, botulinum toxin type A was found to block the release of glutamate. Furthermore, Fos, a product of the immediate early gene, c-fos, expressed with neuronal stimuli was prevented upon peripheral exposure to the toxin.

These findings suggest that botulinum toxin type A blocks peripheral sensitization and, indirectly, reduces central sensitization. The recent hypothesis that migraine involves both peripheral and central sensitization may help explain how botulinum toxin type A inhibits migraine pain by acting on these two pathways. Further research is needed to determine whether the antinociceptive mechanism mediated by botulinum toxin type A affects the neuronal signaling pathways that are activated during migraine.