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Progesterone is emerging as an important protective agent against various injuries to the nervous system. Neuroprotective and remyelinating effects have been documented for this neurosteroid, which is synthesized by, and acts on, the central and peripheral nervous systems. Neuropathic pain is a severe, persistent condition that is generally resistant to treatment, and poses major personal, social, and economic burdens. The purpose of this study was to determine if single-dose or repeated progesterone administration would alleviate tactile hypersensitivity in a rat model of neuropathic pain, and to determine if early versus late initiation of treatment has an effect on the outcome.
Rats were unilaterally implanted with a polyethylene cuff around the sciatic nerve, and sensitivity to von Frey filament stimulation was measured over approximately 12 weeks.
Rats given progesterone starting one hour after cuff implantation, and daily until day 4, exhibited tactile hypersensitivity similar to that of vehicle-treated rats for the duration of the study. When progesterone was started one hour after cuff implantation and given daily until day 10, rats exhibited no tactile hypersensitivity in the later part of the study, after treatment had stopped. When progesterone treatment was initiated at 20 days, once the model had been fully established, and given daily for 4 or even 11 days, no differences in withdrawal thresholds were observed compared with controls. Progesterone did not have any effect on withdrawal thresholds when given as a single dose, as measured at 30, 60 and 90 minutes after administration.
These results indicate that progesterone, when administered immediately after nerve injury, and for a sufficient period of time, can prevent the development of neuropathic pain, and may offer new strategies for the treatment of this highly debilitating condition.