Nerve growth factor (NGF) is a neurotrophin that activates nociceptive neurons to transmit pain signals from the peripheral to the central nervous system and that exerts its effects on neurons by signalling through tyrosine kinase receptors. Antibodies that inhibit the function of NGF and small molecule inhibitors of NGF receptors have been developed and tested in clinical studies to evaluate the efficacy of NGF inhibition as a form of analgesia in chronic pain states including osteoarthritis and chronic low back pain. Clinical studies in individuals with painful knee and hip osteoarthritis have revealed that NGF inhibitors substantially reduce joint pain and improve function compared with NSAIDs for a duration of up to 8 weeks. However, the higher tested doses of NGF inhibitors also increased the risk of rapidly progressive osteoarthritis in a small percentage of those treated. This Review recaps the biology of NGF and the studies that have been performed to evaluate the efficacy of NGF inhibition for chronic musculoskeletal pain states. The adverse events associated with NGF inhibition and the current state of knowledge about the mechanisms involved in rapidly progressive osteoarthritis are also discussed and future studies proposed to improve understanding of this rare but serious adverse event.
ASJC Scopus subject areas