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2.  Sensory Neuron Downregulation of the Kv9.1 Potassium Channel Subunit Mediates Neuropathic Pain following Nerve Injury 
Chronic neuropathic pain affects millions of individuals worldwide, is typically long-lasting, and remains poorly treated with existing therapies. Neuropathic pain arising from peripheral nerve lesions is known to be dependent on the emergence of spontaneous and evoked hyperexcitability in damaged nerves. Here, we report that the potassium channel subunit Kv9.1 is expressed in myelinated sensory neurons, but is absent from small unmyelinated neurons. Kv9.1 expression was strongly and rapidly downregulated following axotomy, with a time course that matches the development of spontaneous activity and pain hypersensitivity in animal models. Interestingly, siRNA-mediated knock-down of Kv9.1 in naive rats led to neuropathic pain behaviors. Diminished Kv9.1 function also augmented myelinated sensory neuron excitability, manifested as spontaneous firing, hyper-responsiveness to stimulation, and persistent after-discharge. Intracellular recordings from ex vivo dorsal root ganglion preparations revealed that Kv9.1 knock-down was linked to lowered firing thresholds and increased firing rates under physiologically relevant conditions of extracellular potassium accumulation during prolonged activity. Similar neurophysiological changes were detected in animals subjected to traumatic nerve injury and provide an explanation for neuropathic pain symptoms, including poorly understood conditions such as hyperpathia and paresthesias. In summary, our results demonstrate that Kv9.1 dysfunction leads to spontaneous and evoked neuronal hyperexcitability in myelinated fibers, coupled with development of neuropathic pain behaviors.
PMCID: PMC3713313  PMID: 23197740
3.  PainNetworks: A web-based resource for the visualisation of pain-related genes in the context of their network associations 
Pain  2013;154(12):2586.e1-2586.e12.
Hundreds of genes are proposed to contribute to nociception and pain perception. Historically, most studies of pain-related genes have examined them in isolation or alongside a handful of other genes. More recently the use of systems biology techniques has enabled us to study genes in the context of the biological pathways and networks in which they operate.
Here we describe a Web-based resource, available at It integrates interaction data from various public databases with information on known pain genes taken from several sources (eg, The Pain Genes Database) and allows the user to examine a gene (or set of genes) of interest alongside known interaction partners. This information is displayed by the resource in the form of a network.
The user can enrich these networks by using data from pain-focused gene expression studies to highlight genes that change expression in a given experiment or pairs of genes showing correlated expression patterns across different experiments. Genes in the networks are annotated in several ways including biological function and drug binding.
The Web site can be used to find out more about a gene of interest by looking at the function of its interaction partners. It can also be used to interpret the results of a functional genomics experiment by revealing putative novel pain-related genes that have similar expression patterns to known pain-related genes and by ranking genes according to their network connections with known pain genes.
We expect this resource to grow over time and become a valuable asset to the pain community.
PMCID: PMC3863956  PMID: 24036287
Systems biology; Protein–protein interactions; Protein interaction network; Web-based resource; Pain genes; Microarrays
4.  Chronic Pain: Emerging Evidence for the Involvement of Epigenetics 
Neuron  2012;73(3):435-444.
Epigenetic processes, such as histone modifications and DNA methylation, have been associated with many neural functions including synaptic plasticity, learning, and memory. Here, we critically examine emerging evidence linking epigenetic mechanisms to the development or maintenance of chronic pain states. Although in its infancy, research in this area potentially unifies several pathophysiological processes underpinning abnormal pain processing and opens up a different avenue for the development of novel analgesics.
PMCID: PMC3996727  PMID: 22325197
5.  Genome-Wide Transcriptional Profiling of Skin and Dorsal Root Ganglia after Ultraviolet-B-Induced Inflammation 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e93338.
Ultraviolet-B (UVB)-induced inflammation produces a dose-dependent mechanical and thermal hyperalgesia in both humans and rats, most likely via inflammatory mediators acting at the site of injury. Previous work has shown that the gene expression of cytokines and chemokines is positively correlated between species and that these factors can contribute to UVB-induced pain. In order to investigate other potential pain mediators in this model we used RNA-seq to perform genome-wide transcriptional profiling in both human and rat skin at the peak of hyperalgesia. In addition we have also measured transcriptional changes in the L4 and L5 DRG of the rat model. Our data show that UVB irradiation produces a large number of transcriptional changes in the skin: 2186 and 3888 genes are significantly dysregulated in human and rat skin, respectively. The most highly up-regulated genes in human skin feature those encoding cytokines (IL6 and IL24), chemokines (CCL3, CCL20, CXCL1, CXCL2, CXCL3 and CXCL5), the prostanoid synthesising enzyme COX-2 and members of the keratin gene family. Overall there was a strong positive and significant correlation in gene expression between the human and rat (R = 0.8022). In contrast to the skin, only 39 genes were significantly dysregulated in the rat L4 and L5 DRGs, the majority of which had small fold change values. Amongst the most up-regulated genes in DRG were REG3B, CCL2 and VGF. Overall, our data shows that numerous genes were up-regulated in UVB irradiated skin at the peak of hyperalgesia in both human and rats. Many of the top up-regulated genes were cytokines and chemokines, highlighting again their potential as pain mediators. However many other genes were also up-regulated and might play a role in UVB-induced hyperalgesia. In addition, the strong gene expression correlation between species re-emphasises the value of the UVB model as translational tool to study inflammatory pain.
PMCID: PMC3986071  PMID: 24732968
6.  Molecular Mechanisms Underlying the Enhanced Analgesic Effect of Oxycodone Compared to Morphine in Chemotherapy-Induced Neuropathic Pain 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e91297.
Oxycodone is a μ-opioid receptor agonist, used for the treatment of a large variety of painful disorders. Several studies have reported that oxycodone is a more potent pain reliever than morphine, and that it improves the quality of life of patients. However, the neurobiological mechanisms underlying the therapeutic action of these two opioids are only partially understood. The aim of this study was to define the molecular changes underlying the long-lasting analgesic effects of oxycodone and morphine in an animal model of peripheral neuropathy induced by a chemotherapic agent, vincristine. Using a behavioural approach, we show that oxycodone maintains an optimal analgesic effect after chronic treatment, whereas the effect of morphine dies down. In addition, using DNA microarray technology on dorsal root ganglia, we provide evidence that the long-term analgesic effect of oxycodone is due to an up-regulation in GABAB receptor expression in sensory neurons. These receptors are transported to their central terminals within the dorsal horn, and subsequently reinforce a presynaptic inhibition, since only the long-lasting (and not acute) anti-hyperalgesic effect of oxycodone was abolished by intrathecal administration of a GABAB receptor antagonist; in contrast, the morphine effect was unaffected. Our study demonstrates that the GABAB receptor is functionally required for the alleviating effect of oxycodone in neuropathic pain condition, thus providing new insight into the molecular mechanisms underlying the sustained analgesic action of oxycodone.
PMCID: PMC3949760  PMID: 24618941
7.  Opening paths to novel analgesics: the role of potassium channels in chronic pain 
Trends in Neurosciences  2014;37(3):146-158.
•Potassium (K+) channels are crucial determinants of neuronal excitability.•Nerve injury or inflammation alters K+ channel activity in neurons of the pain pathway.•These changes can render neurons hyperexcitable and cause chronic pain.•Therapies targeting K+ channels may provide improved pain relief in these states.
Chronic pain is associated with abnormal excitability of the somatosensory system and remains poorly treated in the clinic. Potassium (K+) channels are crucial determinants of neuronal activity throughout the nervous system. Opening of these channels facilitates a hyperpolarizing K+ efflux across the plasma membrane that counteracts inward ion conductance and therefore limits neuronal excitability. Accumulating research has highlighted a prominent involvement of K+ channels in nociceptive processing, particularly in determining peripheral hyperexcitability. We review salient findings from expression, pharmacological, and genetic studies that have untangled a hitherto undervalued contribution of K+ channels in maladaptive pain signaling. These emerging data provide a framework to explain enigmatic pain syndromes and to design novel pharmacological treatments for these debilitating states.
PMCID: PMC3945816  PMID: 24461875
potassium channel; pain; dorsal root ganglia; pharmacotherapy
8.  Genes and epigenetic processes as prospective pain targets 
Genome Medicine  2013;5(2):12.
Chronic pain affects approximately one in five adults, resulting in a greatly reduced quality of life and a higher risk of developing co-morbidities such as depression. Available treatments often provide inadequate pain relief, but it is hoped that through deeper understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying chronic pain states we can discover new and improved therapies. Although genetic research has flourished over the past decade and has identified many key genes in pain processing, the budding field of epigenetics promises to provide new insights and a more dynamic view of pain regulation. This review gives an overview of basic mechanisms and current therapies to treat pain, and discusses the clinical and preclinical evidence for the contribution of genetic and epigenetic factors, with a focus on how this knowledge can affect drug development.
PMCID: PMC3706821  PMID: 23409739
9.  A comparison of RNA-seq and exon arrays for whole genome transcription profiling of the L5 spinal nerve transection model of neuropathic pain in the rat 
Molecular Pain  2014;10:7.
The past decade has seen an abundance of transcriptional profiling studies of preclinical models of persistent pain, predominantly employing microarray technology. In this study we directly compare exon microarrays to RNA-seq and investigate the ability of both platforms to detect differentially expressed genes following nerve injury using the L5 spinal nerve transection model of neuropathic pain. We also investigate the effects of increasing RNA-seq sequencing depth. Finally we take advantage of the “agnostic” approach of RNA-seq to discover areas of expression outside of annotated exons that show marked changes in expression following nerve injury.
RNA-seq and microarrays largely agree in terms of the genes called as differentially expressed. However, RNA-seq is able to interrogate a much larger proportion of the genome. It can also detect a greater number of differentially expressed genes than microarrays, across a wider range of fold changes and is able to assign a larger range of expression values to the genes it measures. The number of differentially expressed genes detected increases with sequencing depth. RNA-seq also allows the discovery of a number of genes displaying unusual and interesting patterns of non-exonic expression following nerve injury, an effect that cannot be detected using microarrays.
We recommend the use of RNA-seq for future high-throughput transcriptomic experiments in pain studies. RNA-seq allowed the identification of a larger number of putative candidate pain genes than microarrays and can also detect a wider range of expression values in a neuropathic pain model. In addition, RNA-seq can interrogate the whole genome regardless of prior annotations, being able to detect transcription from areas of the genome not currently annotated as exons. Some of these areas are differentially expressed following nerve injury, and may represent novel genes or isoforms. We also recommend the use of a high sequencing depth in order to detect differential expression for genes with low levels of expression.
PMCID: PMC4021616  PMID: 24472155
Whole-genome transcription profiling; Exon arrays; Microarrays; RNA-Sequencing; RNA-seq; Next generation sequencing; Spinal nerve transection; Nerve injury; Neuropathic pain; Differential gene expression
10.  Kv2 dysfunction after peripheral axotomy enhances sensory neuron responsiveness to sustained input☆ 
Experimental Neurology  2014;251(100):115-126.
Peripheral nerve injuries caused by trauma are associated with increased sensory neuron excitability and debilitating chronic pain symptoms. Axotomy-induced alterations in the function of ion channels are thought to largely underlie the pathophysiology of these phenotypes. Here, we characterise the mRNA distribution of Kv2 family members in rat dorsal root ganglia (DRG) and describe a link between Kv2 function and modulation of sensory neuron excitability. Kv2.1 and Kv2.2 were amply expressed in cells of all sizes, being particularly abundant in medium-large neurons also immunoreactive for neurofilament-200. Peripheral axotomy led to a rapid, robust and long-lasting transcriptional Kv2 downregulation in the DRG, correlated with the onset of mechanical and thermal hypersensitivity. The consequences of Kv2 loss-of-function were subsequently investigated in myelinated neurons using intracellular recordings on ex vivo DRG preparations. In naïve neurons, pharmacological Kv2.1/Kv2.2 inhibition by stromatoxin-1 (ScTx) resulted in shortening of action potential (AP) after-hyperpolarization (AHP). In contrast, ScTx application on axotomized neurons did not alter AHP duration, consistent with the injury-induced Kv2 downregulation. In accordance with a shortened AHP, ScTx treatment also reduced the refractory period and improved AP conduction to the cell soma during high frequency stimulation. These results suggest that Kv2 downregulation following traumatic nerve lesion facilitates greater fidelity of repetitive firing during prolonged input and thus normal Kv2 function is postulated to limit neuronal excitability. In summary, we have profiled Kv2 expression in sensory neurons and provide evidence for the contribution of Kv2 dysfunction in the generation of hyperexcitable phenotypes encountered in chronic pain states.
•Kv2.1 and Kv2.2 are expressed in rat dorsal root ganglion neurons.•Kv2 subunits are most abundant in myelinated sensory neurons.•Kv2.1 and Kv.2 subunits are downregulated in a traumatic nerve injury pain model.•Kv2 inhibition ex vivo allows higher firing rates during sustained stimulation.•We conclude that Kv2 channels contribute to limiting peripheral neuron excitability.
PMCID: PMC3898477  PMID: 24252178
AP, action potential; APD50, AP half width; AHPD50, after-hyperpolarization half width; ATF3, activating transcription factor 3; CGRP, calcitonin gene-related peptide; CNS, central nervous system; DRG, dorsal root ganglion; GAPDH, glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase; IB4, isolectin B4; IHC, immunohistochemistry; IR, input resistance; ISH, in situ hybridization; Kv channel, voltage-gated potassium channel; NF200, neurofilament 200; RP, refractory period; ScTx, stromatoxin-1; SNT, spinal nerve transection; Neuropathic pain; Potassium channel; Dorsal root ganglia
11.  Defining the nociceptor transcriptome 
Unbiased “omics” techniques, such as next generation RNA-sequencing, can provide entirely novel insights into biological systems. However, cellular heterogeneity presents a significant barrier to analysis and interpretation of these datasets. The neurons of the dorsal root ganglia (DRG) are an important model for studies of neuronal injury, regeneration and pain. The majority of investigators utilize a dissociated preparation of whole ganglia when studying cellular and molecular function. We demonstrate that the standard methods for producing these preparations gives a 10%-neuronal mixture of cells, with the remainder of cells constituting satellite glia and other non-neuronal cell types. Using a novel application of magnetic purification, we consistently obtain over 95% pure, viable neurons from adult tissue, significantly enriched for small diameter nociceptors expressing the voltage gated ion channel Nav1.8. Using genome-wide RNA-sequencing we compare the currently used (10% neuronal) and pure (95% nociceptor) preparations and find 920 genes enriched. This gives an unprecedented insight into the molecular composition of small nociceptive neurons in the DRG, potentially altering the interpretation of previous studies performed at the tissue level, and indicating a number of novel markers of this widely-studied population of cells. We anticipate that the ease of use, affordability and speed of this technique will see it become widely adopted, delivering a greatly improved capacity to study the roles of nociceptors in health and disease.
PMCID: PMC4227287  PMID: 25426020
pain; nociceptors; nociception; somatosensation; dorsal root ganglion; RNA-sequencing; peripheral nervous system; regeneration
12.  Synthesis of Lipid Mediators during UVB-Induced Inflammatory Hyperalgesia in Rats and Mice 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e81228.
Peripheral sensitization during inflammatory pain is mediated by a variety of endogenous proalgesic mediators including a number of oxidized lipids, some of which serve endogenous modulators of sensory TRP-channels. These lipids are eicosanoids of the arachidonic acid and linoleic acid pathway, as well as lysophophatidic acids (LPAs). However, their regulation pattern during inflammatory pain and their contribution to peripheral sensitization is still unclear. Here, we used the UVB-model for inflammatory pain to investigate alterations of lipid concentrations at the site of inflammation, the dorsal root ganglia (DRGs) as well as the spinal dorsal horn and quantified 21 lipid species from five different lipid families at the peak of inflammation 48 hours post irradiation. We found that known proinflammatory lipids as well as lipids with unknown roles in inflammatory pain to be strongly increased in the skin, whereas surprisingly little changes of lipid levels were seen in DRGs or the dorsal horn. Importantly, although there are profound differences between the number of cytochrome (CYP) genes between mice and rats, CYP-derived lipids were regulated similarly in both species. Since TRPV1 agonists such as LPA 18∶1, 9- and 13-HODE, 5- and 12-HETE were elevated in the skin, they may contribute to thermal hyperalgesia and mechanical allodynia during UVB-induced inflammatory pain. These results may explain why some studies show relatively weak analgesic effects of cyclooxygenase inhibitors in UVB-induced skin inflammation, as they do not inhibit synthesis of other proalgesic lipids such as LPA 18∶1, 9-and 13-HODE and HETEs.
PMCID: PMC3857181  PMID: 24349046
13.  Probing Functional Properties of Nociceptive Axons Using a Microfluidic Culture System 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e80722.
Pathological changes in axonal function are integral features of many neurological disorders, yet our knowledge of the molecular basis of axonal dysfunction remains limited. Microfluidic chambers (MFCs) can provide unique insight into the axonal compartment independent of the soma. Here we demonstrate how an MFC based cell culture system can be readily adapted for the study of axonal function in vitro. We illustrate the ease and versatility to assay electrogenesis and conduction of action potentials (APs) in naïve, damaged or sensitized DRG axons using calcium imaging at the soma for pharmacological screening or patch-clamp electrophysiology for detailed biophysical characterisation. To demonstrate the adaptability of the system, we report by way of example functional changes in nociceptor axons following sensitization by neurotrophins and axotomy in vitro. We show that NGF can locally sensitize axonal responses to capsaicin, independent of the soma. Axotomizing neurons in MFC results in a significant increase in the proportion of neurons that respond to axonal stimulation, and interestingly leads to accumulation of Nav1.8 channels in regenerating axons. Axotomy also augmented AP amplitude following axotomy and altered activation thresholds in a subpopulation of regenerating axons. We further show how the system can readily be used to study modulation of axonal function by non-neuronal cells such as keratinocytes. Hence we describe a novel in vitro platform for the study of axonal function and a surrogate model for nerve injury and sensitization.
PMCID: PMC3835735  PMID: 24278311
14.  Chemokine expression in peripheral tissues from the Monosodium Iodoacetate model of chronic joint pain 
Molecular Pain  2013;9:57.
Chronic pain arising from degenerative diseases of the joint such as osteoarthritis (OA) has a strong peripheral component which is likely to be mediator driven. Current treatments which reduce the production of such mediators i.e. non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can help to lessen pain in OA patients. However, this is not always the case and complete pain relief is rarely achieved, suggesting that additional unidentified mediators play a role. Here we have investigated the notion that chemokines might act as such pain mediators in OA.
Using the monosodium iodoacetate (MIA) model of chronic joint pain the expression of over 90 different inflammatory mediators, mainly cytokines and chemokines, were measured in tissues taken from the femorotibial joint (cartilage, subchondral bone, fat pad) using custom-made quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) array cards. At both the day 3 and 14 time points, numerous inflammatory mediators were significantly up-regulated in these tissues, although it was clear that the largest transcriptional dysregulation occurred in the cartilage. Using individual qPCR to measure immune cell markers, a significant infiltration of macrophages was measured in the cartilage and fat pad at day 3. Neutrophil infiltration was also measured in the fat pad at the same time point, but no infiltration was observed at day 14. Combination of mRNA expression data from different time points and tissues identified the chemokines, CCL2, 7 and 9 as being consistently up-regulated. The overall increase in CCL2 expression was also measured at the protein level.
Chemokines in general and CCL2, 7 and 9 in particular, represent promising targets for further studies into the identification of new pain mediators in chronic joint pain.
PMCID: PMC3835139  PMID: 24206615
Pain; Chemokine; Osteoarthritis; Monosodium iodoacetate; Macrophages; Neutrophils
15.  HDAC inhibitors attenuate the development of hypersensitivity in models of neuropathic pain 
Pain  2013;154(9):1668-1679.
Intrathecal delivery of histone deacetylase inhibitors ameliorates hypersensitivity in models of neuropathic pain. This effect may be mediated at the level of the spinal cord through inhibition of HDAC1 function.
Histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACIs) interfere with the epigenetic process of histone acetylation and are known to have analgesic properties in models of chronic inflammatory pain. The aim of this study was to determine whether these compounds could also affect neuropathic pain. Different class I HDACIs were delivered intrathecally into rat spinal cord in models of traumatic nerve injury and antiretroviral drug–induced peripheral neuropathy (stavudine, d4T). Mechanical and thermal hypersensitivity was attenuated by 40% to 50% as a result of HDACI treatment, but only if started before any insult. The drugs globally increased histone acetylation in the spinal cord, but appeared to have no measurable effects in relevant dorsal root ganglia in this treatment paradigm, suggesting that any potential mechanism should be sought in the central nervous system. Microarray analysis of dorsal cord RNA revealed the signature of the specific compound used (MS-275) and suggested that its main effect was mediated through HDAC1. Taken together, these data support a role for histone acetylation in the emergence of neuropathic pain.
PMCID: PMC3763368  PMID: 23693161
Histone deacetylase; Histone deacetylase inhibitors; Neuropathic pain
16.  Axonal neuregulin 1 is a rate limiting but not essential factor for nerve remyelination 
Brain  2013;136(7):2279-2297.
Neuregulin 1 acts as an axonal signal that regulates multiple aspects of Schwann cell development including the survival and migration of Schwann cell precursors, the ensheathment of axons and subsequent elaboration of the myelin sheath. To examine the role of this factor in remyelination and repair following nerve injury, we ablated neuregulin 1 in the adult nervous system using a tamoxifen inducible Cre recombinase transgenic mouse system. The loss of neuregulin 1 impaired remyelination after nerve crush, but did not affect Schwann cell proliferation associated with Wallerian degeneration or axon regeneration or the clearance of myelin debris by macrophages. Myelination changes were most marked at 10 days after injury but still apparent at 2 months post-crush. Transcriptional analysis demonstrated reduced expression of myelin-related genes during nerve repair in animals lacking neuregulin 1. We also studied repair over a prolonged time course in a more severe injury model, sciatic nerve transection and reanastamosis. In the neuregulin 1 mutant mice, remyelination was again impaired 2 months after nerve transection and reanastamosis. However, by 3 months post-injury axons lacking neuregulin 1 were effectively remyelinated and virtually indistinguishable from control. Neuregulin 1 signalling is therefore an important factor in nerve repair regulating the rate of remyelination and functional recovery at early phases following injury. In contrast to development, however, the determination of myelination fate following nerve injury is not dependent on axonal neuregulin 1 expression. In the early phase following injury, axonal neuregulin 1 therefore promotes nerve repair, but at late stages other signalling pathways appear to compensate.
PMCID: PMC3692042  PMID: 23801741
injury; Nrg1; regeneration; remyelination; Schwann
17.  Characterisation and mechanisms of bradykinin-evoked pain in man using iontophoresis 
Pain  2013;154(6):782-792.
An optimised model was developed to investigate in vivo mechanics of bradykinin and analogues in human skin using iontophoresis and an inflammatory model.
Bradykinin (BK) is an inflammatory mediator that can evoke oedema and vasodilatation, and is a potent algogen signalling via the B1 and B2 G-protein coupled receptors. In naïve skin, BK is effective via constitutively expressed B2 receptors (B2R), while B1 receptors (B1R) are purported to be upregulated by inflammation. The aim of this investigation was to optimise BK delivery to investigate the algesic effects of BK and how these are modulated by inflammation. BK iontophoresis evoked dose- and temperature-dependent pain and neurogenic erythema, as well as thermal and mechanical hyperalgesia (P < 0.001 vs saline control). To differentiate the direct effects of BK from indirect effects mediated by histamine released from mast cells (MCs), skin was pretreated with compound 4880 to degranulate the MCs prior to BK challenge. The early phase of BK-evoked pain was reduced in degranulated skin (P < 0.001), while thermal and mechanical sensitisation, wheal, and flare were still evident. In contrast to BK, the B1R selective agonist des-Arg9-BK failed to induce pain or sensitise naïve skin. However, following skin inflammation induced by ultraviolet B irradiation, this compound produced a robust pain response. We have optimised a versatile experimental model by which BK and its analogues can be administered to human skin. We have found that there is an early phase of BK-induced pain which partly depends on the release of inflammatory mediators by MCs; however, subsequent hyperalgesia is not dependent on MC degranulation. In naïve skin, B2R signaling predominates, however, cutaneous inflammation results in enhanced B1R responses.
PMCID: PMC3919168  PMID: 23422725
Pain; Bradykinin; Des-Arg9-bradykinin; Iontophoresis; Mast cell
18.  Chondroitinase ABC-Mediated Plasticity of Spinal Sensory Function 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2008;28(46):11998-12009.
Experimental therapeutics designed to enhance recovery from spinal cord injury (SCI) primarily focus on augmenting the growth of damaged axons by elevating their intrinsic growth potential and/or by nullifying the influence of inhibitory proteins present in the mature CNS. However, these strategies may also influence the wiring of intact pathways. The direct contribution of such effects to functional restoration after injury has been mooted, but as yet not been described. Here, we provide evidence to support the hypothesis that reorganization of intact spinal circuitry enhances function after SCI. Adult rats that underwent unilateral cervical spared-root lesion (rhizotomy of C5, C6, C8, and T1, sparing C7) exhibited profound sensory deficits for 4 weeks after injury. Delivery of a focal intraspinal injection of the chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan-degrading enzyme chondroitinase ABC (ChABC) was sufficient to restore sensory function after lesion. In vivo electrophysiological recordings confirm that behavioral recovery observed in ChABC-treated rats was consequent on reorganization of intact C7 primary afferent terminals and not regeneration of rhizotomized afferents back into the spinal cord within adjacent segments. These data confirm that intact spinal circuits have a profound influence on functional restoration after SCI. Furthermore, comprehensive understanding of these targets may lead to therapeutic interventions that can be spatially tailored to specific circuitry, thereby reducing unwanted maladaptive axon growth of distal pathways.
PMCID: PMC3844838  PMID: 19005065
chondroitin sulfate; plasticity; spinal cord injury; traumatic injury; dorsal rhizotomy; proteoglycan
19.  Genes Contributing to Pain Sensitivity in the Normal Population: An Exome Sequencing Study 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(12):e1003095.
Sensitivity to pain varies considerably between individuals and is known to be heritable. Increased sensitivity to experimental pain is a risk factor for developing chronic pain, a common and debilitating but poorly understood symptom. To understand mechanisms underlying pain sensitivity and to search for rare gene variants (MAF<5%) influencing pain sensitivity, we explored the genetic variation in individuals' responses to experimental pain. Quantitative sensory testing to heat pain was performed in 2,500 volunteers from TwinsUK (TUK): exome sequencing to a depth of 70× was carried out on DNA from singletons at the high and low ends of the heat pain sensitivity distribution in two separate subsamples. Thus in TUK1, 101 pain-sensitive and 102 pain-insensitive were examined, while in TUK2 there were 114 and 96 individuals respectively. A combination of methods was used to test the association between rare variants and pain sensitivity, and the function of the genes identified was explored using network analysis. Using causal reasoning analysis on the genes with different patterns of SNVs by pain sensitivity status, we observed a significant enrichment of variants in genes of the angiotensin pathway (Bonferroni corrected p = 3.8×10−4). This pathway is already implicated in animal models and human studies of pain, supporting the notion that it may provide fruitful new targets in pain management. The approach of sequencing extreme exome variation in normal individuals has provided important insights into gene networks mediating pain sensitivity in humans and will be applicable to other common complex traits.
Author Summary
Chronic widespread pain is a complex clinical problem. Identification of underlying genetic factors would shed light on the biology of pain and offer targets for novel therapies. We aimed to identify rare genetic variants in the normal population associated with pain sensation by performing exome sequencing on individuals who were more or less sensitive to heat pain. While we did not identify any single variants having large effect, we did observe major group differences between the sensitive and insensitive individuals. Network analysis suggested a role for the angiotensin pathway, which previous work in animal models has suggested is important in pain mediation. Our results cast light on the genetic factors underlying normal pain sensation in humans and the utility of exome analyses. It suggests that further exploration of the angiotensin pathway may reveal novel targets for the treatment of pain.
PMCID: PMC3527205  PMID: 23284290
20.  Conduction failure following spinal cord injury: functional and anatomical changes from acute to chronic stages 
In the majority of spinal cord injuries (SCIs) some axonal projections remain intact. We examined the functional status of these surviving axons, since they represent a prime therapeutic target. Using a novel electrophysiological preparation, adapted from techniques used to study primary demyelination, we quantified conduction failure across a SCI and studied conduction changes over time in adult rats with a moderate severity spinal contusion (150 kilodyne, Infinite Horizon impactor). By recording antidromically activated single units from teased dorsal root filaments we demonstrate complete conduction block in ascending dorsal column axons acutely (1-7 days) post-injury, followed by a period of restored conduction over the sub-acute phase (2-4 weeks), with no further improvements in conduction at chronic stages (3-6 months). By cooling the lesion site additional conducting fibres could be recruited, thus revealing a population of axons that are viable but unable to conduct under normal physiological conditions. Importantly, this phenomenon is still apparent at the most chronic (6 month) time point. The time course of conduction changes corresponded with changes in behavioural function, and ultrastructural analysis of dorsal column axons revealed extensive demyelination during the period of conduction block, followed by progressive remyelination. A proportion of dorsal column axons remained chronically demyelinated, suggesting that these are the axons recruited with the cooling paradigm. Thus, using a clinically relevant SCI model we have identified a population of axons present at chronic injury stages which are intact but fail to conduct and are therefore a prime target for therapeutic strategies to restore function.
PMCID: PMC3495307  PMID: 22171053
21.  The yellow fluorescent protein (YFP-H) mouse reveals neuroprotection as a novel mechanism underlying Chondroitinase ABC-mediated repair following spinal cord injury 
Chondroitinase ABC (ChABC) represents a promising therapeutic strategy for the treatment of spinal cord injury due to its potent effects on restoring function to spinal injured adult mammals. However, there is limited mechanistic insight as to the underlying effects of ChABC treatment, where the effects are mediated, and which signalling pathways are involved in ChABC-mediated repair. Here we utilise a transgenic (YFP-H) mouse to demonstrate that cortical layer V projection neurons undergo severe atrophy four weeks following thoracic dorsal column injury and that ChABC is neuroprotective for these neurons following ICV infusion. ChABC also prevented cell atrophy following localised delivery to the spinal cord, suggesting a possible retrograde neuroprotective effect mediated at the injury site. Furthermore, neuroprotection of corticospinal cell somata coincided with increased axonal sprouting in the spinal cord. In addition, Western blot analysis of a number of kinases important in survival and growth signalling revealed a significant increase in phosphorylated ERK1 at the spinal injury site following in vivo ChABC treatment, indicating that activated ERK may play a role in downstream repair processes following ChABC treatment. Total forms of PKC and AKT were also elevated, indicating that modification of the glial scar by ChABC promotes long-lasting signalling changes at the lesion site. Thus, using the YFP-H mouse as a novel tool to study degenerative changes and repair following spinal cord injury we demonstrate, for the first time, that ChABC treatment regulates multiple signalling cascades at the injury site and exerts protective effects on axotomised corticospinal projection neurons.
PMCID: PMC3340606  PMID: 19109493
spinal cord injury; proteoglycan; neuroprotection; regeneration; repair; transgenic
22.  Expression of the regeneration-associated protein SPRR1A in primary sensory neurons and spinal cord of the adult mouse following peripheral and central injury 
Small proline-rich repeat protein 1A (SPRR1A) is expressed in dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons following peripheral nerve injury but it is not known whether SPRR1A is differentially expressed following injury to peripheral versus central DRG projections and a detailed characterisation of expression in sensory neuron sub-populations and spinal cord has not been performed. Here we use immunocytochemical techniques to characterise SPRR1A expression following sciatic nerve, dorsal root and dorsal column injury in adult mice. SPRR1A was not detected in naïve spinal cord, DRG or peripheral nerves and there was minimal expression following injury to the centrally projecting branches of DRG neurons. However, following peripheral (sciatic) nerve injury, intense SPRR1A immunoreactivity was observed in the dorsal horn and motoneurons of the spinal cord, in L4/5 DRG neurons and in the injured nerve. A time-course study comparing expression following sciatic nerve crush and transection revealed maximum SPRR1A levels at day 7 in both models. However, while SPRR1A was down-regulated to baseline by 30 days post-lesion following crush injury, it remained elevated 30 days after transection. Cell-size and double-labelling studies revealed that SPRR1A was expressed by DRG cells of all sizes and co-localized with classical markers of DRG subpopulations and their primary afferent terminals. High co-expression of SPRR1A with activating transcription factor-3 and growth-associated protein-43 was observed, indicating that it is expressed by injured and regenerating neurons. This study supports the hypothesis that SPRR1A is a regeneration-associated gene and that SPRR1A provides a valuable marker to assess the regenerative potential of injured neurons.
PMCID: PMC3339437  PMID: 19107756
nerve injury and repair; axonal regeneration; immunolabelling; primary afferents; dorsal root ganglia; regeneration-associated genes
23.  CXCL5 Mediates UVB Irradiation–Induced Pain 
Science translational medicine  2011;3(90):90ra60.
Many persistent pain states (pain lasting for hours, days, or longer) are poorly treated because of the limitations of existing therapies. Analgesics such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and opioids often provide incomplete pain relief and prolonged use results in the development of severe side effects. Identification of the key mediators of various types of pain could improve such therapies. Here, we tested the hypothesis that hitherto unrecognized cytokines and chemokines might act as mediators in inflammatory pain. We used ultraviolet B (UVB) irradiation to induce persistent, abnormal sensitivity to pain in humans and rats. The expression of more than 90 different inflammatory mediators was measured in treated skin at the peak of UVB-induced hypersensitivity with custom-made polymerase chain reaction arrays. There was a significant positive correlation in the overall expression profiles between the two species. The expression of several genes [interleukin-1β (IL-1β), IL-6, and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2)], previously shown to contribute to pain hypersensitivity, was significantly increased after UVB exposure, and there was dysregulation of several chemokines (CCL2, CCL3, CCL4, CCL7, CCL11, CXCL1, CXCL2, CXCL4, CXCL7, and CXCL8). Among the genes measured, CXCL5 was induced to the greatest extent by UVB treatment in human skin; when injected into the skin of rats, CXCL5 recapitulated the mechanical hypersensitivity caused by UVB irradiation. This hypersensitivity was associated with the infiltration of neutrophils and macrophages into the dermis, and neutralizing the effects of CXCL5 attenuated the abnormal pain-like behavior. Our findings demonstrate that the chemokine CXCL5 is a peripheral mediator of UVB-induced inflammatory pain, likely in humans as well as rats.
PMCID: PMC3232447  PMID: 21734176
24.  Specific involvement of atypical PKCζ/PKMζ in spinal persistent nociceptive processing following peripheral inflammation in rat 
Molecular Pain  2011;7:86.
Central sensitization requires the activation of various intracellular signalling pathways within spinal dorsal horn neurons, leading to a lowering of activation threshold and enhanced responsiveness of these cells. Such plasticity contributes to the manifestation of chronic pain states and displays a number of features of long-term potentiation (LTP), a ubiquitous neuronal mechanism of increased synaptic strength. Here we describe the role of a novel pathway involving atypical PKCζ/PKMζ in persistent spinal nociceptive processing, previously implicated in the maintenance of late-phase LTP.
Using both behavioral tests and in vivo electrophysiology in rats, we show that inhibition of this pathway, via spinal delivery of a myristoylated protein kinase C-ζ pseudo-substrate inhibitor, reduces both pain-related behaviors and the activity of deep dorsal horn wide dynamic range neurons (WDRs) following formalin administration. In addition, Complete Freund's Adjuvant (CFA)-induced mechanical and thermal hypersensitivity was also reduced by inhibition of PKCζ/PKMζ activity. Importantly, this inhibition did not affect acute pain or locomotor behavior in normal rats and interestingly, did not inhibited mechanical allodynia and hyperalgesia in neuropathic rats. Pain-related behaviors in both inflammatory models coincided with increased phosphorylation of PKCζ/PKMζ in dorsal horn neurons, specifically PKMζ phosphorylation in formalin rats. Finally, inhibition of PKCζ/PKMζ activity decreased the expression of Fos in response to formalin and CFA in both superficial and deep laminae of the dorsal horn.
These results suggest that PKCζ, especially PKMζ isoform, is a significant factor involved in spinal persistent nociceptive processing, specifically, the manifestation of chronic pain states following peripheral inflammation.
PMCID: PMC3253059  PMID: 22054645
atypical PKCζ; persistent spinal nociceptive processing; inflammatory pain; dorsal horn; Fos
25.  Perturbing PSD-95 Interactions With NR2B-subtype Receptors Attenuates Spinal Nociceptive Plasticity and Neuropathic Pain 
Molecular Therapy  2011;19(10):1780-1792.
Peripheral inflammation or nerve injury induces a primary afferent barrage into the spinal cord, which can cause N-methyl -aspartate (NMDA) receptor-dependent alterations in the responses of dorsal horn sensory neurons to subsequent afferent inputs. This plasticity, such as “wind-up” and central sensitization, contributes to the hyperexcitability of dorsal horn neurons and increased pain-related behavior in animal models, as well as clinical signs of chronic pain in humans, hyperalgesia and allodynia. Binding of NMDA receptor subunits by the scaffolding protein postsynaptic density protein-95 (PSD-95) can facilitate downstream intracellular signaling and modulate receptor stability, contributing to synaptic plasticity. Here, we show that spinal delivery of the mimetic peptide Tat-NR2B9c disrupts the interaction between PSD-95 and NR2B subunits in the dorsal horn and selectively reduces NMDA receptor-dependent events including wind-up of spinal sensory neurons, and both persistent formalin-induced neuronal activity and pain-related behaviors, attributed to central sensitization. Furthermore, a single intrathecal injection of Tat-NR2B9c in rats with established nerve injury-induced pain attenuates behavioral signs of mechanical and cold hypersensitivity, with no effect on locomotor performance. Thus, uncoupling of PSD-95 from spinal NR2B-containing NMDA receptors may prevent the neuronal plasticity involved in chronic pain and may be a successful analgesic therapy, reducing side effects associated with receptor blockade.
PMCID: PMC3188755  PMID: 21427709

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