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1.  Gliopathy Ensures Persistent Inflammation and Chronic Pain after Spinal Cord Injury 
Experimental neurology  2008;214(1):6-9.
Research focused on improving recovery of function, including the reduction of central neuropathic pain (CNP) after spinal cord injury (SCI) is essential. After SCI, regional neuropathic pain syndromes above, at and below the level or spinal injury develop and are thought to have different mechanisms, but may share common dysfunctional glial mechanisms. Detloff et al, 2008 describes events in the lumbar region of the spinal cord after a midthoracic SCI injury, the so called “below-level” pain and compares the findings to peripheral nerve lesion findings. This commentary briefly reviews glial contributions and intracellular signaling mechanisms, both neuronal and glial, that provide the substrate for CNP after SCI, including the persistent glial production of factors that can maintain sensitization of dorsal horn neurons in segments remote from the spinal injury; ie. dorsal horn hyperexcitability to formerly non noxious stimuli that become noxious after SCI resulting in allodynia. The term “gliopathy” is proposed to describe the dysfunctional and maladaptive response of glial cells, specifically astrocytes and microglia, to neural injury that is initiated by the sudden injury induced increase in extracellular concentrations of glutamate and concomitant production of several proinflammatory molecules. It is important to understand the roles that different glia play in “gliopathy,” a condition that appears to persist after SCI. Furthermore, targeted treatment of gliopathy will attenuate mechanical allodynia in both central and peripheral neuropathic pain syndromes.
PMCID: PMC2888707  PMID: 18708053
2.  Herpes simplex virus vector-mediated expression of interleukin-10 reduces below-level central neuropathic pain after spinal cord injury 
Neuroimmune activation in the spinal dorsal horn plays an important role in the pathogenesis of chronic pain after peripheral nerve injury.
We wanted to examine the role of neuroimmune activation in below level neuropathic pain after traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI).
Right hemilateral SCI was created in male Sprague Dawley rats by controlled blunt impact through a T12 laminectomy. Pain related behaviors were assessed using both evoked reflex responses and an operant conflict-avoidance test. Neuroimmune activation was blocked by the anti-inflammatory cytokine interleukin-10 (IL-10) delivered by a non-replicating herpes simplex virus (HSV)-based gene transfer vector (vIL10). Markers of neuroimmune activation were assessed using immunohistochemistry and Western blot.
One week after SCI, injured animals demonstrated mechanical allodynia, thermal hyperalgesia, and mechanical hyperalgesia in the hind limbs below the level of injury. Animals inoculated with vIL10 had a statistically significant reduction in all of these measures compared to injured rats or injured rats inoculated with control vector. Conflict-avoidance behavior of injured rats inoculated with vIL10 was consistent with significantly reduced pain compared to injured rats injected with control vector. These behavioral results correlated with a significant decrease in spinal tumor necrosis factor α (mTNFα) expression assessed by Western blot and astrocyte activation assessed by glial fibrillary acidic protein immunohistochemistry.
Below level pain after SCI is characterized by neuroimmune activation (increase mTNFα and astrocyte activation). Blunting of the neuroimmune response by HSV-mediated delivery of IL-10 reduced pain-related behaviors, and may represent a potential novel therapeutic agent.
PMCID: PMC3414650  PMID: 22593113
spinal cord injury; pain; gene therapy; herpes virus; interleukin-10; neuroinflammation
3.  Peripheral and central sensitization in remote spinal cord regions contribute to central neuropathic pain after spinal cord injury 
Pain  2009;147(1-3):265-276.
Central neuropathic pain (CNP) developing after spinal cord injury (SCI) is described by the region affected: above-level, at-level and below-level pain occurs in dermatomes rostral, at/near, or below the SCI level, respectively. People with SCI and rodent models of SCI develop above-level pain characterized by mechanical allodynia and thermal hyperalgesia. Mechanisms underlying this pain are unknown and the goals of this study were to elucidate components contributing to the generation of above-level CNP. Following a thoracic (T10) contusion, forelimb nociceptors had enhanced spontaneous activity and were sensitized to mechanical and thermal stimulation of the forepaws 35 days post-injury. Cervical dorsal horn neurons showed enhanced responses to non-noxious and noxious mechanical stimulation as well as thermal stimulation of receptive fields. Immunostaining dorsal root ganglion (DRG) cells and cord segments with activating transcription factor 3 (ATF3, a marker for neuronal injury) ruled out neuronal damage as a cause for above-level sensitization since few C8 DRG cells expressed AFT3 and cervical cord segments had few to no ATF3-labeled cells. Finally, activated microglia and astrocytes were present in thoracic and cervical cord at 35 days post-SCI, indicating a rostral spread of glial activation from the injury site. Based on these data, we conclude that peripheral and central sensitization as well as reactive glia in the uninjured cervical cord contribute to CNP. We hypothesize that reactive glia in the cervical cord release pro-inflammatory substances which drive chronic CNP. Thus a complex cascade of events spanning many cord segments underlies above-level CNP.
PMCID: PMC2787843  PMID: 19853381
neuroplasticity; primary afferents; nociception; microglia activation; astrocyte activation
4.  Calcium channel alpha-2-delta-1 protein upregulation in dorsal spinal cord mediates spinal cord injury induced neuropathic pain states 
Pain  2011;152(3):649-655.
Spinal cord injury (SCI) commonly results in the development of neuropathic pain, which can dramatically impair the quality of life for SCI patients. SCI induced neuropathic pain can be manifested as both tactile allodynia (a painful sensation to a non-noxious stimulus) and or hyperalgesia (an enhanced sensation to a painful stimulus). The mechanisms underlying these pain states are poorly understood. Clinical studies have shown that gabapentin, a drug that binds to the voltage gated calcium channel alpha-2-delta-1 subunit (Cavα2δ-1) proteins is effective in the management of SCI induced neuropathic pain. Accordingly, we hypothesized that tactile allodynia post SCI is mediated by an upregulation of Cavα2δ-1 in dorsal spinal cord (DSC). To test this hypothesis, we examined if SCI-induced dysregulation of spinal Cavα2δ-1 plays a contributory role in below-level allodynia development in a rat spinal T9 contusion injury model. We found that Cavα2δ-1 expression levels were significantly increased in L4-6 dorsal, but not ventral, spinal cord of SCI rats that correlated with tactile allodynia development in the hindpaw plantar surface. Furthermore, both intrathecal gabapentin treatment and blocking SCI induced Cavα2δ-1 protein upregulation by intrathecal Cavα2δ-1 antisense oligodeoxynucleotides could reverse tactile allodynia in SCI rats. These findings support that SCI induced Cavα2δ-1 upregulation in spinal dorsal horn is a key component in mediating below-level neuropathic pain development and selectively targeting this pathway may provide effective pain relief for SCI patients.
PMCID: PMC3039050  PMID: 21239111
5.  Spatial and Temporal Activation of Spinal Glial Cells: Role of Gliopathy in Central Neuropathic Pain Following Spinal Cord Injury in Rats 
Experimental Neurology  2011;234(2):362-372.
In the spinal cord, neurons and glial cells actively interact and contribute to neurofunction. Surprisingly, both cell types have similar receptors, transporters and ion channels and also produce similar neurotransmitters and cytokines. The neuroanatomical and neurochemical similarities work synergistically to maintain physiological homeostasis in the normal spinal cord. However, in trauma or disease states, spinal glia become activated, dorsal horn neurons become hyperexcitable contributing to sensitized neuronal-glial circuits. The maladaptive spinal circuits directly affect synaptic excitability, including activation of intracellular downstream cascades that result in enhanced evoked and spontaneous activity in dorsal horn neurons with the result that abnormal pain syndromes develop.
Recent literature reported that spinal cord injury produces glial activation in the dorsal horn; however, the majority of glial activation studies after SCI have focused on transient and/or acute time points, from a few hours to one month, and peri-lesion sites, a few millimeters rostral and caudal to the lesion site. In addition, thoracic spinal cord injury produces activation of astrocytes and microglia that contributes to dorsal horn neuronal hyperexcitability and central neuropathic pain in above-level, at-level and below-level segments remote from the lesion in the spinal cord. The cellular and molecular events of glial activation are not a simple event, rather it is the consequence of a combination of several neurochemical and neurophysiological changes following SCI. The ionic imbalances, neuroinflammation and alterations of cell cycle proteins after SCI are predominant components for neuroanatomical and neurochemical changes that result in glial activation. More importantly, SCI induced release of glutamate, proinfloammatory cytokines, ATP, reactive oxygen species (ROS) and neurotrophic factors trigger activation of postsynaptic neurons and glial cells via their own receptors and channels that, in turn, contribute to neuronal-neuronal and neuronal-glial interaction as well as microglia-astrocytic interactions. However, a systematic review of temporal and spatial glial activation following SCI has not been done.
In this review, we describe time and regional dependence of glial activation and describe activation mechanisms in various SCI models in rats. These data are placed in the broader context of glial activation mechanisms and chronic pain states. Our work in the context of work by others in SCI models demonstrate that dysfunctional glia, a condition called “gliopathy”, are key contributors in the underlying cellular mechanisms contributing to neuropathic pain.
PMCID: PMC3303938  PMID: 22036747
Central Neuropathic Pain; Glial Activation; Gliopathy; Hyperexcitability; Spinal Cord Injury
6.  Adenoviral-Mediated Glial Cell Line–Derived Neurotrophic Factor Gene Transfer Has a Protective Effect on Sciatic Nerve Following Constriction-Induced Spinal Cord Injury 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e92264.
Neuropathic pain due to peripheral nerve injury may be associated with abnormal central nerve activity. Glial cell-line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) can help attenuate neuropathic pain in different animal models of nerve injury. However, whether GDNF can ameliorate neuropathic pain in the spinal cord dorsal horn (SCDH) in constriction-induced peripheral nerve injury remains unknown. We investigated the therapeutic effects of adenoviral-mediated GDNF on neuropathic pain behaviors, microglial activation, pro-inflammatory cytokine expression and programmed cell death in a chronic constriction injury (CCI) nerve injury animal model. In this study, neuropathic pain was produced by CCI on the ipsilateral SCDH. Mechanical allodynia was examined with von Frey filaments and thermal sensitivity was tested using a plantar test apparatus post-operatively. Target proteins GDNF-1, GDNFRa-1, MMP2, MMP9, p38, phospho-p38, ED1, IL6, IL1β, AIF, caspase-9, cleaved caspase-9, caspase-3, cleaved caspase-3, PARP, cleaved PARP, SPECTRIN, cleaved SPECTRIN, Beclin-1, PKCσ, PKCγ, iNOS, eNOS and nNOS were detected. Microglial activity was measured by observing changes in immunoreactivity with OX-42. NeuN and TUNEL staining were used to reveal whether apoptosis was attenuated by GDNF. Results showed that administrating GDNF began to attenuate both allodynia and thermal hyperalgesia at day 7. CCI-rats were found to have lower GDNF and GDNFRa-1 expression compared to controls, and GDNF re-activated their expression. Also, GDNF significantly down-regulated CCI-induced protein expression except for MMP2, eNOS and nNOS, indicating that the protective action of GDNF might be associated with anti-inflammation and prohibition of microglia activation. Immunocytochemistry staining showed that GDNF reduced CCI-induced neuronal apoptosis. In sum, GDNF enhanced the neurotrophic effect by inhibiting microglia activation and cytokine production via p38 and PKC signaling. GDNF could be a good therapeutic tool to attenuate programmed cell death, including apoptosis and autophagy, consequent to CCI-induced peripheral nerve injury.
PMCID: PMC3958488  PMID: 24642655
7.  Mechanisms of Chronic Central Neuropathic Pain after Spinal Cord Injury 
Brain research reviews  2008;60(1):202-213.
Not all spinal contusions result in mechanical allodynia, in which non-noxious stimuli become noxious. The studies presented use the NYU impactor at 12.5 mm drop or the Infinite Horizons Impactor (150 kdyne, 1 sec dwell) devices to model spinal cord injury (SCI). Both of these devices and injury parameters, if done correctly, will result in animals with above level (forelimb), at level (trunk) and below level (hindlimb) mechanical allodynia that model the changes in evoked somatosensation experienced by the majority of people with SCI. The sections are as follows: 1) Mechanisms of Remote Microglial Activation and Pain Signaling in “Below-Level” Central Pain 2) Intracellular Signaling Mechanisms in Central Sensitization in “At-Level” Pain 3) Peripheral Sensitization Contributes to “Above Level” Injury Pain Following Spinal Cord Injury and 4) Role of Reactive Oxygen Species in Central Sensitization in Regional Neuropathic Pain Following SCI. To summarize, differential regional mechanisms contribute to the regional chronic pain states. We propose the importance of understanding the mechanisms in the differential regional pain syndromes after SCI in the chronic condition. Targeting regional mechanisms will be of enormous benefit to the SCI population that suffer chronic pain, and will contribute to better treatment strategies for other chronic pain syndromes.
PMCID: PMC2796975  PMID: 19154757
Reactive Oxygen Species; cytokines; Central Sensitization; Peripheral Sensitization; Pain; Chronic Pain; Regional Pain Syndrome
8.  Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor and Spinal Cord Injury Pain 
Journal of Neurotrauma  2010;27(10):1793-1803.
Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-A mRNA was previously identified as one of the significantly upregulated transcripts in spinal cord injured tissue from adult rats that developed allodynia. To characterize the role of VEGF-A in the development of pain in spinal cord injury (SCI), we analyzed mechanical allodynia in SCI rats that were treated with either vehicle, VEGF-A isoform 165 (VEGF165), or neutralizing VEGF165-specific antibody. We have observed that exogenous administration of VEGF165 increased both the number of SCI rats that develop persistent mechanical allodynia, and the level of hypersensitivity to mechanical stimuli. Our analysis identified excessive and aberrant growth of myelinated axons in dorsal horns and dorsal columns of chronically injured spinal cords as possible mechanisms for both SCI pain and VEGF165-induced amplification of SCI pain, suggesting that elevated endogenous VEGF165 may have a role in the development of allodynia after SCI. However, the neutralizing VEGF165 antibody showed no effect on allodynia or axonal sprouting after SCI. It is possible that another endogenous VEGF isoform activates the same signaling pathway as the exogenously-administered 165 isoform and contributes to SCI pain. Our transcriptional analysis revealed that endogenous VEGF188 is likely to be the isoform involved in the development of allodynia after SCI. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to suggest a possible link between VEGF, nonspecific sprouting of myelinated axons, and mechanical allodynia following SCI.
PMCID: PMC2953928  PMID: 20698758
microarray analysis; myelinated axon sprouting; neuropathic pain; rat spinal cord injury; vascular endothelial growth factor
9.  Calcium/Calmodulin Dependent Kinase II Plays a Role in Persistent Central Neuropathic Pain Following Spinal Cord Injury 
Pain  2012;153(3):710-721.
Chronic central neuropathic pain following CNS injuries remains refractory to therapeutic interventions. A novel approach would be to target key intracellular signaling proteins that are known to contribute to continued activation by phosphorylation of kinases, transcription factors, and/or receptors that contribute to changes in membrane excitability. We demonstrate that one signaling kinase, calcium/calmodulin-dependent kinase II (CaMKII), is critical in maintaining aberrant dorsal horn neuron hyperexcitability in the neuropathic pain condition following spinal cord injury (SCI). Following T10 contusion SCI, activated CaMKII (phosphorylated, pCAMKII) expression is significantly upregulated in the T7/8 spinal dorsal horn in neurons, but not glial cells, and in oligodendrocytes in the dorsal column in the same rats that displayed at-level mechanical allodynia. Furthermore, identified spinothalamic neurons demonstrated significant increases of pCaMKII after SCI compared to sham controls. However, neither astrocytes nor microglia showed pCaMKII expression in either sham or SCI rats. To demonstrate causality, treatment of SCI rats with KN-93, which prevents CaMKII activation, significantly attenuated at-level mechanical allodynia and aberrant WDR neuronal activity evoked by brush, pressure, pinch stimuli and a graded series of von Frey stimuli, respectively. This is the first evidence that persistent CaMKII activation contributes to chronic central neuropathic pain by mechanisms that involve maintained hyperexcitability of WDR dorsal horn neurons. Furthermore, targeting key signaling proteins is a novel, useful therapeutic strategy for treating chronic central neuropathic pain.
PMCID: PMC3367863  PMID: 22296735
CaMKII; central neuropathic pain; electrophysiology; immunocytochemistry; mechanical allodynia; Western Immunoblotting
10.  Activation of p38 MAP Kinase is Involved in Central Neuropathic Pain Following Spinal Cord Injury 
Experimental neurology  2008;213(2):257-267.
Recent work regarding chronic central neuropathic pain (CNP) following spinal cord injury (SCI) suggests that activation of key signaling molecules such as members of the mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK) family play a role in the expression of at-level mechanical allodynia. Specifically, Crown and colleagues (2005, 2006) have shown that the development of at-level CNP following moderate spinal cord injury is correlated with increased expression of the activated (and thus phosphorylated) forms of the MAPKs extracellular signal related kinase and p38 MAPK. The current study extends this work by directly examining the role of p38 MAPK in the maintenance of at-level CNP following spinal cord injury. Using a combination of behavioral, immunocytochemical, and electrophysiological measures we demonstrate that increased activation of p38 MAPK occurs in the spinal cord just rostral to the site of injury in rats that develop at-level mechanical allodynia after moderate SCI. Immunocytochemical analyses indicate that the increases in p38 MAPK activation occurred in astrocytes, microglia, and dorsal horn neurons in the spinal cord rostral to the site of injury. Inhibiting the enzymatic activity of p38 MAPK dose dependently reverses the behavioral expression of at-level mechanical allodynia and also decreases the hyperexcitability seen in thoracic dorsal horn neurons after moderate SCI. Taken together, these novel data are the first to demonstrate causality that increased activation of p38 MAPK in multiple cell types play an important role in the maintenance of at-level CNP following spinal cord injury.
PMCID: PMC2580737  PMID: 18590729
p38 MAPK; electrophysiology; at-level mechanical allodynia; girdling; Western Immunoblotting; immunocytochemistry; central neuropathic pain
11.  Influence of intrathecal delivery of bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells on spinal inflammation and pain hypersensitivity in a rat model of peripheral nerve injury 
Multipotent mesenchymal stem (stromal) cells (MSCs) have been credited with immunomodulative properties, supporting beneficial outcomes when transplanted into a variety of disease models involving inflammation. Potential mechanisms include the secretion of paracrine factors and the establishment of a neurotrophic microenvironment. To test the hypothesis that MSCs release soluble mediators that can attenuate local inflammation, we here analysed the influence of MSCs on the activation of microglia cells, as well as on inflammatory parameters and pain behaviour in a surgical rat model of neuropathic pain.
We focussed on an experimental model of partial sciatic nerve ligation (PSNL), characterised by a rapid and persistent inflammation in the dorsal lumbar spinal cord where sensory inputs from the sciatic nerve are processed. Via indwelling intrathecal catheters, MSCs were repetitively grafted into the intrathecal lumbar space. Animals were evaluated for mechanical and thermal hypersensitivity over a period of 21 days after PSNL. Afterwards, spinal cords were processed for immunohistochemical analysis of the microglial marker ionized calcium-binding adapter molecule 1 (Iba1) and quantification of inflammatory markers in ipsilateral dorsal horns. We hypothesised that injections on postsurgical days 2 to 4 would interfere with microglial activation, leading to a reduced production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and amelioration of pain behaviour.
PSNL-induced mechanical allodynia or heat hyperalgesia were not influenced by MSC transplantation, and spinal cord inflammatory processes remained largely unaffected. Indeed, the early microglial response to PSNL characterised by increased Iba1 expression in the lumbar dorsal horn was not significantly altered and cytokine levels in the spinal cord at 21 days after surgery were similar to those found in vehicle-injected animals. Grafted MSCs were detected close to the pia mater, but were absent within the spinal cord parenchyma.
We conclude that intrathecal administration is not an appropriate route to deliver cells for treatment of acute spinal cord inflammation as it leads to entrapment of grafted cells within the pia mater. We propose that the early inflammatory response triggered by PSNL in the lumbar spinal cord failed to effectively recruit MSCs or was insufficient to disturb the tissue integrity so as to allow MSCs to penetrate the spinal cord parenchyma.
PMCID: PMC4172959  PMID: 25212534
Mesenchymal stem cells; Neuroinflammation; Microglia; PSNL; Pain
12.  Remote Astrocytic and Microglial Activation Modulate Neuronal Hyperexcitability and Below-Level Neuropathic Pain after Spinal Injury in Rat 
Neuroscience  2009;161(3):895-903.
In this study, we evaluated whether astrocytic and microglial activation mediates below-level neuropathic pain following spinal cord injury. Male Sprague-Dawley (225–250 g) rats were given low thoracic (T13) spinal transverse hemisection and behavioral, electrophysiological and immunohistochemical methods were used to examine the development and maintenance of below-level neuropathic pain. On post operation day 28, both hindlimbs showed significantly decreased paw withdrawal thresholds and thermal latencies as well as hyperexcitability of lumbar (L4-5) spinal wide dynamic range (WDR) neurons on both sides of spinal dorsal horn compared to sham controls (*p<0.05). Intrathecal treatment with propentofylline (PPF, 10 mM) for 7 consecutive days immediately after spinal injury attenuated the development of mechanical allodynia and thermal hyperalgesia in both hindlimbs in a dose related reduction compared to vehicle treatments (*p<0.05). Intrathecal treatment with single injections of PPF at 28 days after spinal injury, attenuated the existing mechanical allodynia and thermal hyperalgesia in both hindlimbs in a dose related reduction (*p<0.05). In electrophysiological studies, topical treatment of 10 mM PPF onto the spinal surface attenuated the neuronal hyperexcitability in response to mechanical stimuli. In immunohistochemical studies, astrocytes and microglia in rats with spinal hemisection showed significantly increased GFAP and OX-42 expression in both superficial and deep dorsal horns in the lumbar spinal dorsal horn compared to sham controls (*p<0.05) that was prevented in a dose related manner by PPF. In conclusion, our present data support astrocytic and microglial activation that contributes to below-level central neuropathic pain following spinal cord injury.
PMCID: PMC3005301  PMID: 19332108
allodynia; hyperexcitability; spinal cord injury; spinal glia; WDR neuron
13.  Injury Discharges Regulate Calcium Channel Alpha-2-Delta-1 Subunit Upregulation in the Dorsal Horn that Contributes to Initiation of Neuropathic Pain 
Pain  2008;139(2):358-366.
Previous studies have shown that peripheral nerve injury in rats induces increased expression of the voltage gated calcium channel (VGCC) alpha-2-delta-1 subunit (Cavα2δ1) in spinal dorsal horn and sensory neurons in dorsal root ganglia (DRG) that correlates to established neuropathic pain states. To determine if injury discharges trigger Cavα2δ1 induction that contributes to neuropathic pain initiation, we examined allodynia onset and Cavα2δ1 levels in DRG and spinal dorsal horn of spinal nerve ligated rats after blocking injury induced neural activity with a local brief application of lidocaine on spinal nerves before the ligation. The lidocaine pretreatment blocked ligation-induced discharges in a dose-dependent manner. Similar pretreatment with the effective concentration of lidocaine diminished injury-induced increases of the Cavα2δ1 in DRG and abolished that in spinal dorsal horn specifically, and resulted in a delayed onset of tactile allodynia post injury. Both dorsal horn Cavα2δ1 upregulation and tactile allodynia in the lidocaine pretreated rats returned to levels similar to that in saline pretreated controls two weeks post the ligation injury. In addition, preemptive intrathecal Cavα2δ1 antisense treatments blocked concurrently injury-induced allodynia onset and Cavα2δ1 upregulation in dorsal spinal cord. These findings indicate that injury induced discharges regulate Cavα2δ1 expression in the spinal dorsal horn that is critical for neuropathic allodynia initiation. Thus, preemptive blockade of injury-induced neural activity or Cavα2δ1 upregulation may be a beneficial option in neuropathic pain management.
PMCID: PMC2613852  PMID: 18571852
Nerve injury; spinal neuroplasticity; neuropathic pain; allodynia initiation
14.  Chronic At- and Below-Level Pain after Moderate Unilateral Cervical Spinal Cord Contusion in Rats 
Journal of Neurotrauma  2013;30(10):884-890.
Chronic neuropathic pain is a significant consequence of spinal cord injury (SCI) that is associated with evoked pain, including allodynia and/or hyperalgesia. Allodynia is defined as a painful response to normally innocuous stimuli, and hyperalgesia occurs when there is an amplified pain response to normally noxious stimuli. We describe a model of a unilateral cervical level (C5) contusion injury where sensory recovery was assessed weekly for 6 weeks in 32 adult, female, Sprague-Dawley rats. Bilateral thermal hyperalgesia and tactile allodynia are detectable in the fore- and hindpaws as early as 7 days post-injury (dpi) and persist for at least 42 days. Paw withdrawal latency in response to a noxious thermal stimulus significantly intra-animal pre-operative values. Change in paw withdrawal latency plateaued at 21 dpi. Interestingly, bilateral forepaw allodynia develops in fewer than 40% of rats as measured by von Frey monofilament testing. Similar results occur in the hindpaws, where bilateral allodynia occurs in 46% of rats with SCI. The contralesional forepaw and both hindpaws of rats showed a slight increase in paw withdrawal threshold to tactile stimuli acutely after SCI, corresponding to ipsilesional forelimb motor deficits that resolve over time. That there is no difference among allodynic and non-allodynic groups in overall spared tissue or specifically of the dorsal column or ventrolateral white matter where ascending sensory tracts reside suggests that SCI-induced pain does not depend solely on the size or extent of the lesion, but that other mechanisms are in play. These observations provide a valid model system for future testing of therapeutic interventions to prevent the onset or to reduce the debilitating effects of chronic neuropathic pain after SCI.
PMCID: PMC3660073  PMID: 23216008
central pain; mechanical allodynia; spinal cord injury; thermal hyperalgesia
15.  Large A-fiber activity is required for microglial proliferation and p38 MAPK activation in the spinal cord: different effects of resiniferatoxin and bupivacaine on spinal microglial changes after spared nerve injury 
Molecular Pain  2009;5:53.
After peripheral nerve injury, spontaneous ectopic activity arising from the peripheral axons plays an important role in inducing central sensitization and neuropathic pain. Recent evidence indicates that activation of spinal cord microglia also contributes to the development of neuropathic pain. In particular, activation of p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) in spinal microglia is required for the development of mechanical allodynia. However, activity-dependent activation of microglia after nerve injury has not been fully addressed. To determine whether spontaneous activity from C- or A-fibers is required for microglial activation, we used resiniferatoxin (RTX) to block the conduction of transient receptor potential vanilloid subtype 1 (TRPV1) positive fibers (mostly C- and Aδ-fibers) and bupivacaine microspheres to block all fibers of the sciatic nerve in rats before spared nerve injury (SNI), and observed spinal microglial changes 2 days later.
SNI induced robust mechanical allodynia and p38 activation in spinal microglia. SNI also induced marked cell proliferation in the spinal cord, and all the proliferating cells (BrdU+) were microglia (Iba1+). Bupivacaine induced a complete sensory and motor blockade and also significantly inhibited p38 activation and microglial proliferation in the spinal cord. In contrast, and although it produced an efficient nociceptive block, RTX failed to inhibit p38 activation and microglial proliferation in the spinal cord.
(1) Blocking peripheral input in TRPV1-positive fibers (presumably C-fibers) is not enough to prevent nerve injury-induced spinal microglial activation. (2) Peripheral input from large myelinated fibers is important for microglial activation. (3) Microglial activation is associated with mechanical allodynia.
PMCID: PMC2759920  PMID: 19772627
16.  Below Level Central Pain Induced by Discrete Dorsal Spinal Cord Injury 
Journal of Neurotrauma  2010;27(9):1697-1707.
Central neuropathic pain occurs with multiple sclerosis, stroke, and spinal cord injury (SCI). Models of SCI are commonly used to study central neuropathic pain and are excellent at modeling gross physiological changes. Our goal was to develop a rat model of central neuropathic pain by traumatizing a discrete region of the dorsal spinal cord, thereby avoiding issues including paralysis, urinary tract infection, and autotomy. To this end, dorsal root avulsion was pursued. The model was developed by first determining the number of avulsed dorsal roots sufficient to induce below-level hindpaw mechanical allodynia. This was optimally achieved by unilateral T13 and L1 avulsion, which resulted in tissue damage confined to Lissauer's tract, dorsal horn, and dorsal columns, at the site of avulsion, with no gross physical changes at other spinal levels. Behavior following avulsion was compared to that following rhizotomy of the T13 and L1 dorsal roots, a commonly used model of neuropathic pain. Avulsion induced below-level allodynia that was more robust and enduring than that seen after rhizotomy. This, plus the lack of direct spinal cord damage associated with rhizotomy, suggests that avulsion is not synonymous with rhizotomy, and that avulsion (but not rhizotomy) is a model of central neuropathic pain. The new model described here is the first to use discrete dorsal horn damage by dorsal root avulsion to create below-level bilateral central neuropathic pain.
PMCID: PMC2966849  PMID: 20649467
avulsion; central pain; rhizotomy; spinal cord injury
17.  Resolvin E1 inhibits neuropathic pain and spinal cord microglial activation following peripheral nerve injury 
Accumulating evidence indicates that activation of spinal cord microglia plays an important role in the genesis of neuropathic pain. Resolvin E1 (E1) is derived from omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid and exhibits potent anti-inflammatory, pro-resolution, and anti-nociceptive effects. We further examined whether RvE1 could reduce neuropathic pain and modulate spinal cord microglial activation. Intrathecal pre-treatment of RvE1 (100 ng) daily for 3 days partially prevented the development of nerve injury-induced mechanical allodynia and up-regulation of IBA-1 (microglial marker) and TNF-α in the spinal cord dorsal horn. Furthermore, intrathecal post-treatment of RvE1 (100 ng), 3 weeks after nerve injury, transiently reduced mechanical allodynia and heat hyperalgesia. Finally, RvE1 blocked lipopolisaccharide-induced microgliosis and TNF-α release in primary micoglial cultures. Our data suggest that RvE1 may attenuate neuropathic pain via inhibiting microglial signaling. Targeting the anti-inflammatory and pro-resolution lipid mediators may offer new options for preventing and treating neuropathic pain.
PMCID: PMC3671904  PMID: 22878925
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA); Tumor necrosis factor-alpha TNF-α; lipopolisacride (LPS); nerve injury; omega-3 poly unsaturated fatty acids; spinal cord
18.  Stress Exacerbates Neuropathic Pain via Glucocorticoid and NMDA Receptor Activation 
Brain, behavior, and immunity  2009;23(6):851-860.
There is growing recognition that psychological stress influences pain. Hormones that comprise the physiological response to stress (e.g. corticosterone; CORT) may interact with effectors of neuropathic pain. To test this hypothesis, mice received a spared nerve injury (SNI) after exposure to 60 min restraint stress. In stressed mice, allodynia was consistently increased. The mechanism(s) underlying the exacerbated pain response involves CORT acting via glucocorticoid receptors (GRs); RU486, a GR antagonist, prevented the stress-induced increase in allodynia whereas exogenous administration of CORT to non-stressed mice reproduced the allodynic response caused by stress. Since nerve injury-induced microglial activation has been implicated in the onset and propagation of neuropathic pain, we evaluated cellular and molecular indices of microglial activation in the context of stress. Activation of dorsal horn microglia was accelerated by stress; however, this effect was transient and was not associated with the onset or maintenance of a pro-inflammatory phenotype. Stress-enhanced allodynia was associated with increased dorsal horn extracellular signal-regulated kinase phosphorylation (pERK). ERK activation could indicate a stress-mediated increase in glutamatergic signaling, therefore mice were treated prior to SNI and stress with memantine, an N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) antagonist. Memantine prevented stress-induced enhancement of allodynia after SNI. These data suggest that the hormonal responses elicited by stress exacerbate neuropathic pain through enhanced central sensitization. Moreover, drugs that inhibit glucocorticoids (GCs) and/or NMDAR signaling could ameliorate pain syndromes caused by stress.
PMCID: PMC2735409  PMID: 19361551
pain; glucocorticoids; inflammation; microglia; glutamate; ERK
19.  Key role for spinal dorsal horn microglial kinin B1 receptor in early diabetic pain neuropathy 
The pro-nociceptive kinin B1 receptor (B1R) is upregulated on sensory C-fibres, astrocytes and microglia in the spinal cord of streptozotocin (STZ)-diabetic rat. This study aims at defining the role of microglial kinin B1R in diabetic pain neuropathy.
Sprague-Dawley rats were made diabetic with STZ (65 mg/kg, i.p.), and 4 days later, two specific inhibitors of microglial cells (fluorocitrate, 1 nmol, i.t.; minocycline, 10 mg/kg, i.p.) were administered to assess the impact on thermal hyperalgesia, allodynia and mRNA expression (qRT-PCR) of B1R and pro-inflammatory markers. Spinal B1R binding sites ((125I)-HPP-desArg10-Hoe 140) were also measured by quantitative autoradiography. Inhibition of microglia was confirmed by confocal microscopy with the specific marker Iba-1. Effects of intrathecal and/or systemic administration of B1R agonist (des-Arg9-BK) and antagonists (SSR240612 and R-715) were measured on neuropathic pain manifestations.
STZ-diabetic rats displayed significant tactile and cold allodynia compared with control rats. Intrathecal or peripheral blockade of B1R or inhibition of microglia reversed time-dependently tactile and cold allodynia in diabetic rats without affecting basal values in control rats. Microglia inhibition also abolished thermal hyperalgesia and the enhanced allodynia induced by intrathecal des-Arg9-BK without affecting hyperglycemia in STZ rats. The enhanced mRNA expression (B1R, IL-1β, TNF-α, TRPV1) and Iba-1 immunoreactivity in the STZ spinal cord were normalized by fluorocitrate or minocycline, yet B1R binding sites were reduced by 38%.
The upregulation of kinin B1R in spinal dorsal horn microglia by pro-inflammatory cytokines is proposed as a crucial mechanism in early pain neuropathy in STZ-diabetic rats.
PMCID: PMC2913947  PMID: 20587056
20.  Intrathecal delivery of PDGF produces tactile allodynia through its receptors in spinal microglia 
Molecular Pain  2009;5:23.
Neuropathic pain is a debilitating pain condition that occurs after nerve damage. Such pain is considered to be a reflection of the aberrant excitability of dorsal horn neurons. Emerging lines of evidence indicate that spinal microglia play a crucial role in neuronal excitability and the pathogenesis of neuropathic pain, but the mechanisms underlying neuron-microglia communications in the dorsal horn remain to be fully elucidated. A recent study has demonstrated that platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) expressed in dorsal horn neurons contributes to neuropathic pain after nerve injury, yet how PDGF produces pain hypersensitivity remains unknown. Here we report an involvement of spinal microglia in PDGF-induced tactile allodynia. A single intrathecal delivery of PDGF B-chain homodimer (PDGF-BB) to naive rats produced a robust and long-lasting decrease in paw withdrawal threshold in a dose-dependent manner. Following PDGF administration, the immunofluorescence for phosphorylated PDGF β-receptor (p-PDGFRβ), an activated form, was markedly increased in the spinal dorsal horn. Interestingly, almost all p-PDGFRβ-positive cells were double-labeled with an antibody for the microglia marker OX-42, but not with antibodies for other markers of neurons, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes. PDGF-stimulated microglia in vivo transformed into a modest activated state in terms of their cell number and morphology. Furthermore, PDGF-BB-induced tactile allodynia was prevented by a daily intrathecal administration of minocycline, which is known to inhibit microglia activation. Moreover, in rats with an injury to the fifth lumbar spinal nerve (an animal model of neuropathic pain), the immunofluorescence for p-PDGFRβ was markedly enhanced exclusively in microglia in the ipsilateral dorsal horn. Together, our findings suggest that spinal microglia critically contribute to PDGF-induced tactile allodynia, and it is also assumed that microglial PDGF signaling may have a role in the pathogenesis of neuropathic pain.
PMCID: PMC2690582  PMID: 19426564
21.  Early Systemic Granulocyte-Colony Stimulating Factor Treatment Attenuates Neuropathic Pain after Peripheral Nerve Injury 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e43680.
Recent studies have shown that opioid treatment can reduce pro-inflammatory cytokine production and counteract various neuropathic pain syndromes. Granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) can promote immune cell differentiation by increasing leukocytes (mainly opioid-containing polymorphonuclear (PMN) cells), suggesting a potential beneficial role in treating chronic pain. This study shows the effectiveness of exogenous G-CSF treatment (200 µg/kg) for alleviating thermal hyperalgesia and mechanical allodynia in rats with chronic constriction injury (CCI), during post-operative days 1–25, compared to that of vehicle treatment. G-CSF also increases the recruitment of opioid-containing PMN cells into the injured nerve. After CCI, single administration of G-CSF on days 0, 1, and 2, but not on day 3, relieved thermal hyperalgesia, which indicated that its effect on neuropathic pain had a therapeutic window of 0–48 h after nerve injury. CCI led to an increase in the levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6) mRNA and tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) protein in the dorsal root ganglia (DRG). These high levels of IL-6 mRNA and TNF-α were suppressed by a single administration of G-CSF 48–144 h and 72–144 h after CCI, respectively. Furthermore, G-CSF administered 72–144 h after CCI suppressed the CCI-induced upregulation of microglial activation in the ipsilateral spinal dorsal horn, which is essential for sensing neuropathic pain. Moreover, the opioid receptor antagonist naloxone methiodide (NLXM) reversed G-CSF-induced antinociception 3 days after CCI, suggesting that G-CSF alleviates hyperalgesia via opioid/opioid receptor interactions. These results suggest that an early single systemic injection of G-CSF alleviates neuropathic pain via activation of PMN cell-derived endogenous opioid secretion to activate opioid receptors in the injured nerve, downregulate IL-6 and TNF-α inflammatory cytokines, and attenuate microglial activation in the spinal dorsal horn. This indicates that G-CSF treatment can suppress early inflammation and prevent the subsequent development of neuropathic pain.
PMCID: PMC3427178  PMID: 22937076
22.  Role of the CX3CR1/p38 MAPK pathway in spinal microglia for the development of neuropathic pain following nerve injury-induced cleavage of fractalkine 
Brain, behavior, and immunity  2006;21(5):642-651.
Accumulating evidence suggests that microglial cells in the spinal cord play an important role in the development of neuropathic pain. However, it remains largely unknown how glia interact with neurons in the spinal cord after peripheral nerve injury. Recent studies suggest that the chemokine fractalkine may mediate neural/microglial interaction via its sole receptor CX3CR1. We have examined how fractalkine activates microglia in a neuropathic pain condition produced by spinal nerve ligation (SNL). SNL induced an upregulation of CX3CR1 in spinal microglia that began on day 1, peaked on day 3, and maintained on day 10. Intrathecal injection of a neutralizing antibody against CX3CR1 suppressed not only mechanical allodynia but also the activation of p38 MAPK in spinal microglia following SNL. Conversely, intrathecal infusion of fractalkine produced a marked p38 activation and mechanical allodynia. SNL also induced a dramatic reduction of the membrane-bound fractalkine in the dorsal root ganglion, suggesting a cleavage and release of this chemokine after nerve injury. Finally, application of fractalkine to spinal slices did not produce acute facilitation of excitatory synaptic transmission in dorsal horn neurons, arguing against a direct action of fractalkine on spinal neurons. Collectively, our data suggest that (a) fractalkine cleavage (release) after nerve injury may play an important role in neural-glial interaction, and (b) microglial CX3CR1/p38 MAPK pathway is critical for the development of neuropathic pain.
PMCID: PMC2084372  PMID: 17174525
Chemokine; MAP kinase; microglia; spinal cord; neural-glial interaction; spinal nerve ligation; intracellular signaling; neuropathic pain
23.  Minocycline, a microglial inhibitor, blocks spinal CCL2-induced heat hyperalgesia and augmentation of glutamatergic transmission in substantia gelatinosa neurons 
Several lines of evidence suggest that CCL2 could initiate the hyperalgesia of neuropathic pain by causing central sensitization of spinal dorsal horn neurons and facilitating nociceptive transmission in the spinal dorsal horn. The cellular and molecular mechanisms by which CCL2 enhances spinal pain transmission and causes hyperalgesia remain unknown. The substantia gelatinosa (lamina II) of the spinal dorsal horn plays a critical role in nociceptive transmission. An activated spinal microglia, which is believed to release pro-inflammatory cytokines including TNF-α, plays an important role in the development of neuropathic pain, and CCL2 is a key mediator for spinal microglia activation. In the present study, we tested the hypothesis that spinal CCL2 causes the central sensitization of substantia gelatinosa neurons and enhances spinal nociceptive transmission by activating the spinal microglia and augmenting glutamatergic transmission in lamina II neurons.
CCL2 was intrathecally administered to 2-month-old male rats. An intrathecal injection of CCL2 induced heat hyperalgesia, which was assessed using the hot plate test. Whole-cell voltage-clamp recordings substantia gelatinosa neurons in spinal cord slices were performed to record glutamatergic excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) and GABAergic inhibitory postsynaptic currents (IPSCs).
The hot plate test showed that 1 day after the intrathecal injection of CCL2 (1 μg), the latency of hind-paw withdrawal caused by a heat stimulus was significantly reduced in rats. One day after the intrathecal administration of CCL2, the amplitude of the evoked glutamatergic EPSCs and the frequency of spontaneous glutamatergic miniature EPSCs (mEPSCs) were significantly increased in outer lamina II neurons. Intrathecal co-injection of minocycline, a specific inhibitor of microglial activation, and CCL2 blocked the CCL2-induced reduction in the latency of hind-paw withdrawal and thermal hyperalgesia. Following intrathecal co-administration of CCL2 and minocycline, CCL2 failed to increase the frequency of glutamatergic mEPSCs and failed to promote glutamine release in lamina II neurons. Intrathecal co-injection of WP9QY, a selective TNF-α antagonist, and CCL2 completely inhibited CCL2-induced heat hyperalgesia and inhibited the increase in the frequency of glutamatergic mEPSCs in substantia gelatinosa neurons.
In summary, our results suggest that an intrathecal injection of CCL2 causes thermal hyperalgesia by augmenting the excitatory glutamatergic transmission in substantia gelatinosa neurons through a presynaptic mechanism and facilitating nociceptive transmission in the spinal dorsal horn. Further studies show that intrathecal co-administration of minocycline, a specific inhibitor of microglial activation, or WP9QY, a selective TNF-α antagonist, completely inhibited CCL2 potentiation of glutamatergic transmission in substantia gelatinosa neurons and CCL2-induced heat hyperalgesia. The results of the present study suggest that peripheral nerve injury-induced upregulation of the spinal CCL2 level causes the central sensitization of substantia gelatinosa neurons by activating spinal microglia and that TNF-α mediates CCL2-induced thermal hyperalgesia and augmentation of glutamatergic transmission in lamina II neurons.
PMCID: PMC3896825  PMID: 24405660
CC chemokine ligand 2; Heat hyperalgesia; Substantia gelatinosa neurons; Glutamatergic transmission; Microglia; Tumor necrosis factor-α
24.  T-Cell Infiltration and Signaling in the Adult Dorsal Spinal Cord Is a Major Contributor to Neuropathic Pain-Like Hypersensitivity 
Partial peripheral nerve injury in adult rats results in neuropathic pain-like hypersensitivity, while that in neonatal rats does not, a phenomenon also observed in humans. We therefore compared gene expression profiles in the dorsal horn of adult and neonatal rats in response to the spared nerve injury (SNI) model of peripheral neuropathic pain. The 148 differentially regulated genes in adult, but not young, rat spinal cords indicate a greater microglial and T-cell response in adult than in young animals. T-cells show a large infiltration in the adult dorsal horn but not in the neonate after SNI. T-cell-deficient Rag1-null adult mice develop less neuropathic mechanical allodynia than controls, and central expression of cytokines involved in T-cell signaling exhibits large relative differences between young and adult animals after SNI. One such cytokine, interferon-γ (IFNγ), is upregulated in the dorsal horn after nerve injury in the adult but not neonate, and we show that IFNγ signaling is required for full expression of adult neuropathic hypersensitivity. These data reveal that T-cell infiltration and activation in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord following peripheral nerve injury contribute to the evolution of neuropathic pain-like hypersensitivity. The neuroimmune interaction following peripheral nerve injury has therefore a substantial adaptive immune component, which is absent or suppressed in the young CNS.
PMCID: PMC2813708  PMID: 19923276
25.  Low-dose methotrexate reduces peripheral nerve injury-evoked spinal microglial activation and neuropathic pain behavior in rats 
Pain  2008;138(1):130-142.
Peripheral nerve injuries that provoke neuropathic pain are associated with microglial activation in the spinal cord. We have investigated the characteristics of spinal microglial activation in three distinct models of peripheral neuropathic pain: spared nerve injury (SNI), chronic constriction injury, and spinal nerve ligation. In all models, dense clusters of cells immunoreactive for the microglial marker CD11b formed in the ipsilateral dorsal horn 7 days after injury. Microglial expression of ionized calcium binding adapter molecule 1 (Iba1) increased by up to 40% and phosphorylation of p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase, a marker of microglial activity, by 45%. Expression of the lysosomal ED1-antigen indicated phagocytic activity of the cells. Unlike the peripheral nerve lesions, rhizotomy produced only a weak microglial reaction within the spinal gray matter but a strong activation of microglia and phagocytes in the dorsal funiculus at lumbar and thoracic spinal cord levels. This suggests that although degeneration of central terminals is sufficient to elicit microglial activation, it does not account for the inflammatory response in the dorsal horn after peripheral nerve injury. Early intrathecal treatment with low-dose methotrexate, beginning at the time of injury, decreased microglial activation, reduced p38 phosphorylation, and attenuated pain-like behavior after SNI. In contrast, systemic or intrathecal delivery of the glucocorticoid dexamethasone did not inhibit the activation of microglia or reduce pain-like behavior. We confirm that microglial activation is crucial for the development of pain after nerve injury, and demonstrate that suppression of this cellular immune response is a promising approach for preventing neuropathic pain.
PMCID: PMC2536692  PMID: 18215468

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