Comparative biology of pain: What invertebrates can tell us about how nociception works

Brian D. Burrell

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


The inability to adequately treat chronic pain is a worldwide health care crisis. Pain has both an emotional and a sensory component, and this latter component, nociception, refers specifically to the detection of damaging or potentially damaging stimuli. Nociception represents a critical interaction between an animal and its environment and exhibits considerable evolutionary conservation across species. Using comparative approaches to understand the basic biology of nociception could promote the development of novel therapeutic strategies to treat pain, and studies of nociception in invertebrates can provide especially useful insights toward this goal. Both vertebrates and invertebrates exhibit segregated sensory pathways for nociceptive and nonnociceptive information, injury-induced sensitization to nociceptive and nonnociceptive stimuli, and even similar antinociceptive modulatory processes. In a number of invertebrate species, the central nervous system is understood in considerable detail, and it is often possible to record from and/or manipulate single identifiable neurons through either molecular genetic or physiological approaches. Invertebrates also provide an opportunity to study nociception in an ethologically relevant context that can provide novel insights into the nature of how injury-inducing stimuli produce persistent changes in behavior. Despite these advantages, invertebrates have been underutilized in nociception research. In this review, findings from invertebrate nociception studies are summarized, and proposals for how research using invertebrates can address questions about the fundamental mechanisms of nociception are presented.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1461-1473
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2017


  • Endocannabinoid
  • Ethology
  • Neuromodulation
  • Pain
  • Synapse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Physiology


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