Calcineurin-inhibitor pain syndrome

Eric Prommer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Background: There has been increased recognition of calcineurin, a phosphoprotein serine/threonine phosphatase enzyme, in the regulation of many physiologic systems. Calcineurin mediates activation of lymphocytes, which play a role in immune response. Widely distributed in the central nervous system, calcinuerin also plays an important role in sensory neural function, via its role in the regulation of newly discovered 2-pore potassium channels, which greatly influence neuronal resting membrane potentials. Calcinuerin inhibition is the mechanism of action of immunomodulatory drugs such as cyclosporine and tacrolimus, which are widely used in transplantation medicine to prevent rejection. While important for immunosuppression, the use of calcineurin inhibitors has been associated with the development of a new pain syndrome called the calcineurin pain syndrome, which appears to be an untoward complication of the interruption of the physiologic function of calcineurin. Methods: This is a narrative review focusing on the epidemiology, pathophysiology, characterization of a newly recognized pain syndrome associated with the use of calcineurin inhibitors. Results: The use of immunosuppressants however is associated with several well-known toxicities to which the calcineurin pain syndrome can be added. The development of this syndrome most likely involves altered nociceptive processing due to the effect of calcineurin inhibition on neuronal firing, as well as effects of calcineurin on vascular tone. The most striking aspect of the treatment of this syndrome is the response to calcium channel blockers, which suggest that the effects of calcineurin inhibition on vascular tone play an important role in the development of the calcineurin pain syndrome. Conclusion: The calcineurin syndrome is a newly recognized complication associated with the use of calcineurin inhibitors. There is no standard therapy at this time but anecdotal reports suggest the effectiveness of calcium channel blockers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)556-559
Number of pages4
JournalClinical Journal of Pain
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jul 2012


  • Calcineurin
  • Pain
  • Potassium channels

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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