IL-4 is a pleiotropic antiinflammatory cytokine, which can be neuroprotective after nervous system injury. The beneficial actions of IL-4 are thought to result from the blunting of action of inflammatory mediators, such as proinflammatory cytokines. Here, we demonstrate that IL-4 induces M2 macrophages to continuously produce opioid peptides and ameliorate pain.
IL-4 application at injured nerves in mice shifted F4/80+ macrophages from the proinflammatory M1 to the antiinflammatory M2 phenotype, which synthesized opioid peptides (Met-enkephalin, β-endorphin, and dynorphin A 1-17). These effects were accompanied by a long-lasting attenuation of neuropathy-induced mechanical hypersensitivity, beyond the IL-4 treatment. This IL-4-induced analgesia was decreased by opioid peptide antibodies and opioid receptor (δ, μ, κ) antagonists applied at injured nerves, which confirms the involvement of the local opioid system.
The participation of M2 macrophages was supported by analgesia in recipient mice injected at injured nerves with F4/80+ macrophages from IL-4–treated donors. Together, IL-4–induced M2 macrophages at injured nerves produced opioid peptides, which activated peripheral opioid receptors to diminish pain. Fostering the opioid-mediated actions of intrinsic M2 macrophages may be a strategy to tackle pathological pain.