Current understanding of the molecular mechanisms of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy

Xinyu Chen, Yumeng Gan, Ngan Pan Bennett Au, Chi Him Eddie Ma

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Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) is the most common off-target adverse effects caused by various chemotherapeutic agents, such as cisplatin, oxaliplatin, paclitaxel, vincristine and bortezomib. CIPN is characterized by a substantial loss of primary afferent sensory axonal fibers leading to sensory disturbances in patients. An estimated of 19–85% of patients developed CIPN during the course of chemotherapy. The lack of preventive measures and limited treatment options often require a dose reduction or even early termination of life-saving chemotherapy, impacting treatment efficacy and patient survival. In this Review, we summarized the current understanding on the pathogenesis of CIPN. One prominent change induced by chemotherapeutic agents involves the disruption of neuronal cytoskeletal architecture and axonal transport dynamics largely influenced by the interference of microtubule stability in peripheral neurons. Due to an ineffective blood-nerve barrier in our peripheral nervous system, exposure to some chemotherapeutic agents causes mitochondrial swelling in peripheral nerves, which lead to the opening of mitochondrial permeability transition pore and cytochrome c release resulting in degeneration of primary afferent sensory fibers. The exacerbated nociceptive signaling and pain transmission in CIPN patients is often linked the increased neuronal excitability largely due to the elevated expression of various ion channels in the dorsal root ganglion neurons. Another important contributing factor of CIPN is the neuroinflammation caused by an increased infiltration of immune cells and production of inflammatory cytokines. In the central nervous system, chemotherapeutic agents also induce neuronal hyperexcitability in the spinal dorsal horn and anterior cingulate cortex leading to the development of central sensitization that causes CIPN. Emerging evidence suggests that the change in the composition and diversity of gut microbiota (dysbiosis) could have direct impact on the development and progression of CIPN. Collectively, all these aspects contribute to the pathogenesis of CIPN. Recent advances in RNA-sequencing offer solid platform for in silico drug screening which enable the identification of novel therapeutic agents or repurpose existing drugs to alleviate CIPN, holding immense promises for enhancing the quality of life for cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy and improve their overall treatment outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1345811
Number of pages19
JournalFrontiers in Molecular Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 10 Apr 2024


  • chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy
  • dorsal root ganglion
  • mechanical allodynia
  • cold allodynia
  • intraepidermal nerve fibers

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