AIMS Diabetic peripheral neuropathy (DPN) occurs in about half of people with diabetes, of whom a quarter may develop chronic pain. Pain may remain for years yet be difficult to treat because the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. There is consensus that processing excessive glucose leads to oxidative stress, interfering with normal metabolism. In this narrative review, we argue that oxidative stress may also contribute to pain.
METHODS We reviewed literature in PubMed published between January 2005 and August 2021.
RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS In diabetes, hyperglycaemia and associated production of reactive species can directly increase pain signalling and activate sensory neurons; or the effects can be indirect, mediated by mitochondrial damage and enhanced inflammation. Furthermore, pain processing in the central nervous system is compromised in painful DPN. This is implicated in central sensitisation and dysfunctional pain modulation. However, central pain modulatory function is understudied in diabetes. Future research is required to clarify whether central sensitisation and/or disturbances in central pain modulation contribute to painful DPN. Positive results would facilitate early detection and future treatment.