Fibroblasts: The neglected cell type in peripheral sensitisation and chronic pain? A review based on a systematic search of the literature

Naomi Shinotsuka, Franziska Denk*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Chronic pain and its underlying biological mechanisms have been studied for many decades, with a myriad of molecules, receptors and cell types known to contribute to abnormal pain sensations. Besides an obvious role for neurons, immune cells like microglia, macrophages and T cells are also important drivers of persistent pain. While neuroinflammation has therefore been widely studied in pain research, there is one cell type that appears to be rather neglected in this context: the humble fibroblast. Fibroblasts may seem unassuming but actually play a major part in regulating immune cell function and driving chronic inflammation. Here, our aim was to determine the breadth and quality of research that implicates fibroblasts in chronic pain conditions and models. Objectives We set out to analyse the current literature on this topic-using systematic screening and data extraction methods to obtain a balanced view on what has been published. Methods We categorised the articles we included-stratifying them according to what was investigated, the estimated quality of results and any common conclusions. Results We found that there has been surprisingly little research in this area: 134 articles met our inclusion criteria, only a tiny minority of which directly investigated interactions between fibroblasts and peripheral neurons. Conclusions Fibroblasts are a ubiquitous cell type and a prominent source of many proalgesic mediators in a wide variety of tissues. We think that they deserve a more central role in pain research and propose a new, testable model of how fibroblasts might drive peripheral neuron sensitisation.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere100235
JournalBMJ Open Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jan 2022


  • fibroblasts
  • pain


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