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1.  Spinal injection of TNF-α-activated astrocytes produces persistent pain symptom mechanical allodynia by releasing monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 
Glia  2010;58(15):1871-1880.
Accumulating evidence suggests that spinal astrocytes play an important role in the genesis of persistent pain, by increasing the activity of spinal cord nociceptive neurons, i.e., central sensitization. But direct evidence of whether activation of astrocytes is sufficient to induce chronic pain symptoms is lacking. We investigated whether and how spinal injection of activated astrocytes could produce mechanical allodynia, a cardinal feature of chronic pain, in naïve mice. Spinal (intrathecal) injection of astrocytes, which were prepared from cerebral cortexes of neonatal mice and briefly stimulated by tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), induced a substantial decrease in paw withdrawal thresholds, indicating the development of mechanical allodynia. This allodynia was prevented when the astrocyte cultures were pre-treated with a peptide inhibitor of c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK), D-JNKI-1. Of note a short exposure of astrocytes to TNF-α for 15 minutes dramatically increased the expression and release of the chemokine monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1), even 3 hours after TNF-α withdrawal, in a JNK-dependent manner. In parallel, intrathecal administration of TNF-α induced MCP-1 expression in spinal cord astrocytes. In particular, mechanical allodynia induced by TNF-α-activated astrocytes was reversed by a MCP-1 neutralizing antibody. Finally, pretreatment of astrocytes with MCP-1 siRNA attenuated astrocytes-induced mechanical allodynia. Taken together, our results suggest that activated astrocytes are sufficient to produce persistent pain symptom in naïve mice by releasing MCP-1.
PMCID: PMC2951489  PMID: 20737477
TNF-α; MCP-1; JNK; astrocytes; central sensitization
2.  Light touch induces ERK activation in superficial dorsal horn neurons after inflammation: involvement of spinal astrocytes and JNK signaling in touch-evoked central sensitization and mechanical allodynia 
Journal of neurochemistry  2010;115(2):505-514.
Activation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) in spinal cord neurons could serve as a marker for sensitization of dorsal horn neurons in persistent pain. ERK is normally activated by high-threshold noxious stimuli. We investigated how low-threshold mechanical stimuli could activate ERK after complete Freund’s adjuvant (CFA)-induced inflammation. Unilateral injection of CFA induced ipsilateral heat hyperalgesia and bilateral mechanical allodynia. CFA-induced ERK activation in ipsilateral dorsal horn neurons declined after 2 days. Interestingly, low threshold mechanical stimulation given by light touch either on the inflamed paw or the contralateral non-inflamed paw dramatically increased ERK phosphorylation (pERK) in the dorsal horn ipsilateral to touch stimulation. Notably, light touch induced pERK mainly in superficial neurons in laminae I-IIo. Intrathecal administration of the astroglial toxin L-α-aminoadipate (L-α-AA) on post-CFA day 2 reversed CFA-induced bilateral mechanical allodynia but not heat hyperalgesia. Furthermore, L-α-AA, the glial inhibitor fluorocitrate, and a peptide inhibitor of c-Jun N-terminal Kinase (JNK) all reduced light touch-evoked ERK activation ipsilateral to touch. Collectively, these data suggest that (a) ERK can be activated in superficial dorsal horn neurons by low threshold mechanical stimulation under pathological condition and (b) ERK activation by light touch is associated with mechanical allodynia and requires an astrocyte network.
PMCID: PMC2970698  PMID: 20722971
ERK; Complete Freund’s adjuvant; Mechanical allodynia; Astrocytes; JNK
3.  Targeting Astrocyte Signaling for Chronic Pain 
Clinical management of chronic pain after nerve injury (neuropathic pain) and tumor invasion (cancer pain) is a real challenge due to our limited understanding of the cellular mechanisms that initiate and maintain chronic pain. It has been increasingly recognized that glial cells, such as microglia and astrocytes in the central nervous system play an important role in the development and maintenance of chronic pain. Notably, astrocytes make very close contacts with synapses and astrocyte reaction after nerve injury, arthritis, and tumor growth is more persistent than microglial reaction and displays a better correlation with chronic pain behaviors. Accumulating evidence indicates that activated astrocytes can release proinflammatory cytokines (e.g., IL-1β) and chemokines (e.g., MCP-1/CCL2) in the spinal cord to enhance and prolong persistent pain states. IL-1β can powerfully modulate synaptic transmission in the spinal cord by enhancing excitatory synaptic transmission and suppressing inhibitory synaptic transmission. IL-1β activation (cleavage) in the spinal cord after nerve injury requires the matrix metalloprotease-2 (MMP-2). In particular, nerve injury and inflammation activate the c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) in spinal astrocytes, leading to a substantial increase in the expression and release of MCP-1. MCP-1 increases pain sensitivity via direct activation of NMDA receptors in dorsal horn neurons. Pharmacological inhibition of the IL-1β, JNK, MCP-1, or MMP-2 signaling via spinal administration has been shown to attenuate inflammatory, neuropathic, or cancer pain. Therefore, interventions in specific signaling pathways in astrocytes may offer new approaches for the management of chronic pain.
PMCID: PMC2950097  PMID: 20880510
Neuropathic pain; nerve injury; spinal cord; cytokine; chemokine; MAP kinase; glia
4.  Chemokines, neuronal-glial interactions, and central processing of neuropathic pain 
Pharmacology & therapeutics  2010;126(1):56-68.
Millions of people worldwide suffer from neuropathic pain as a result of damage to or dysfunction of the nervous system under various disease conditions. Development of effective therapeutic strategies requires a better understanding of molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the pathogenesis of neuropathic pain. It has been increasingly recognized that spinal cord glial cells such as microglia and astrocytes play a critical role in the induction and maintenance of neuropathic pain by releasing powerful neuromodulators such as proinflammatory cytokines and chemokines. Recent evidence reveals chemokines as new players in pain control. In this article, we review evidence for chemokine modulation of pain via neuronal-glial interactions by focusing on the central role of two chemokines, CX3CL1 (fractalkine) and CCL2 (MCP-1), because they differentially regulate neuronal-glial interactions. Release of CX3CL1 from neurons is ideal to mediate neuronal-to-microglial signaling, since the sole receptor of this chemokine, CX3CR1, is expressed in spinal microglia and activation of the receptor leads to phosphorylation of p38 MAP kinase in microglia. Although CCL2 was implicated in neuronal-to-microglial signaling, a recent study shows a novel role of CCL2 in astroglial-to-neuronal signaling after nerve injury. In particular, CCL2 rapidly induces central sensitization by increasing the activity of NMDA receptors in dorsal horn neurons. Insights into the role of chemokines in neuronal-glial interactions after nerve injury will identify new targets for therapeutic intervention of neuropathic pain.
PMCID: PMC2839017  PMID: 20117131
CCL2/MCP-1; CX3CL1/fractalkine; astrocytes; microglia; nerve injury; spinal cord
5.  The c-Jun N-terminal Kinase 1 (JNK1) in spinal astrocytes is required for the maintenance of bilateral mechanical allodynia under a persistent inflammatory pain condition 
Pain  2010;148(2):309.
Peripheral inflammation induces persistent central sensitization characterized by mechanical allodynia and heat hyperalgesia that are mediated by distinct mechanisms. Compared to well-demonstrated mechanisms of heat hyperalgesia, mechanisms underlying the development of mechanical allodynia and contralateral pain are incompletely known. In this study, we investigated the distinct role of spinal JNK in heat hyperalgesia, mechanical allodynia, and contralateral pain in an inflammatory pain model. Intraplantar injection of complete Freund’s adjuvant (CFA) induced bilateral mechanical allodynia but unilateral heat hyperalgesia. CFA also induced a bilateral activation (phosphorylation) of JNK in the spinal cord, and the phospho JNK1 (pJNK1) levels were much higher than that of pJNK2. Notably, both pJNK and JNK1 were expressed in GFAP-positive astrocytes. Intrathecal infusion of a selective peptide inhibitor of JNK, D-JNKI-1, starting before inflammation via an osmotic pump, reduced CFA-induced mechanical allodynia in the maintenance phase but had no effect on CFA-induced heat hyperalgesia. A bolus intrathecal injection of D-JNKI-1 or SP600126, a small molecule inhibitor of JNK also reversed mechanical allodynia bilaterally. In contrast, peripheral (intraplantar) administration of D-JNKI-1 reduced the induction of CFA-induced heat hyperalgesia but did not change mechanical allodynia. Finally, CFA-induced bilateral mechanical allodynia was attenuated in mice lacking JNK1 but not JNK2. Taken together, our data suggest that spinal JNK, in particular JNK1 plays an important role in the maintenance of persistent inflammatory pain. Our findings also reveal a unique role of JNK1 and astrocyte network in regulating tactile allodynia and contralateral pain.
PMCID: PMC2814908  PMID: 20022176
c-Jun-N-terminal kinase; MAP kinase; Astrocytes; Spinal cord; Contralateral pain; Inflammation; Tactile allodynia
6.  c-Fos and pERK, which is a better marker for neuronal activation and central sensitization after noxious stimulation and tissue injury? 
The open pain journal  2009;2:11-17.
c-Fos, the protein of the protooncogene c-fos, has been extensively used as a marker for the activation of nociceptive neurons in the spinal cord for more than twenty years since Hunt et al. first reported that peripheral noxious stimulation to a hind paw of rats leads to a marked induction of c-Fos in superficial and deep dorsal horn neurons in 1987. In 1999, Ji et al. reported that phosphorylated extracellular signal-regulated kinase (pERK) is specifically induced by noxious stimulation in superficial dorsal horn neurons. Accumulating evidence indicates that pERK induction or ERK activation in dorsal horn neurons is essential for the development of central sensitization, increased sensitivity of dorsal horn neurons that is responsible for the generation of persistent pain. Further, molecular mechanisms underlying ERK-mediated central sensitization have been revealed. In contrast, direct evidence for c-Fos-mediated central sensitization is not sufficient. After a noxious stimulus (e.g., capsaicin injection) or tissue injury, c-Fos begins to be induced after 30-60 minutes, whereas pERK can be induced within a minute, which can correlate well with the development of pain hypersensitivity. While c-Fos is often induced in the nuclei of neurons, pERK can be induced in different subcellular structures of neurons such as nuclei, cytoplasma, axons, and dendrites. pERK can even be induced in spinal cord microglia and astrocytes after nerve injury. In summary, both c-Fos and pERK can be used as markers for neuronal activation following noxious stimulation and tissue injury, but pERK is much more dynamic and appears to be a better marker for central sensitization.
PMCID: PMC2773551  PMID: 19898681
7.  Emerging targets in neuroinflammation-driven chronic pain 
Nature reviews. Drug discovery  2014;13(7):533-548.
Current analgesics predominately modulate pain transduction and transmission in neurons and have limited success in controlling disease progression. Accumulating evidence suggests that neuroinflammation, which is characterized by infiltration of immune cells, activation of glial cells and production of inflammatory mediators in the peripheral and central nervous system, has an important role in the induction and maintenance of chronic pain. This review focuses on emerging targets such as chemokines, proteases and the Wnt pathway that promote spinal cord neuroinflammation and chronic pain. It also highlights the anti-inflammatory and pro-resolution lipid mediators that act on immune cells, glial cells and neurons to resolve neuroinflammation, synaptic plasticity and pain. Targeting excessive neuroinflammation could offer new therapeutic opportunities for chronic pain and related neurological and psychiatric disorders.
PMCID: PMC4228377  PMID: 24948120
8.  NFκB-mediated CXCL1 production in spinal cord astrocytes contributes to the maintenance of bone cancer pain in mice 
Bone cancer pain (BCP) is one of the most disabling factors in patients suffering from primary bone cancer or bone metastases. Recent studies show several chemokines (for example, CCL2, CXCL10) in the spinal cord are involved in the pathogenesis of BCP. Here we investigated whether and how spinal CXCL1 contributes to BCP.
Mouse prostate tumor cell line, RM-1 cells were intramedullary injected into the femur to induce BCP. The mRNA expression of CXCL1 and CXCR2 was detected by quantitative real-time PCR. The protein expression and distribution of CXCL1, NFκB, and CXCR2 was examined by immunofluorescence staining and western blot. The effect of CXCL1 neutralizing antibody, NFκB antagonist, and CXCR2 antagonist on pain hypersensitivity was checked by behavioral testing.
Intramedullary injection of RM-1 cells into the femur induced cortical bone damage and persistent (>21 days) mechanical allodynia and heat hyperalgesia. Tumor cell inoculation also produced CXCL1 upregulation in activated astrocytes in the spinal cord for more than 21 days. Inhibition of CXCL1 by intrathecal administration of CXCL1 neutralizing antibody at 7 days after inoculation attenuated mechanical allodynia and heat hyperalgesia. In cultured astrocytes, TNF-α induced robust CXCL1 expression, which was dose-dependently decreased by NFκB inhibitor. Furthermore, inoculation induced persistent NFκB phosphorylation in spinal astrocytes. Intrathecal injection of NFκB inhibitor attenuated BCP and reduced CXCL1 increase in the spinal cord. Finally, CXCR2, the primary receptor of CXCL1, was upregulated in dorsal horn neurons after inoculation. Inhibition of CXCR2 by its selective antagonist SB225002 attenuated BCP.
NFκB mediates CXCL1 upregulation in spinal astrocytes in the BCP model. In addition, CXCL1 may be released from astrocytes and act on CXCR2 on neurons in the spinal cord and be involved in the maintenance of BCP. Inhibition of the CXCL1 signaling may provide a new therapy for BCP management.
PMCID: PMC3941254  PMID: 24580964
Bone cancer pain; Chemokines; CXCL1; CXCR2; NFκB; Astrocytes; Astroglia-neuron interaction
9.  A long noncoding RNA contributes to neuropathic pain by silencing Kcna2 in primary afferent neurons 
Nature neuroscience  2013;16(8):1024-1031.
Neuropathic pain is a refractory disease characterized by maladaptive changes in gene transcription and translation within the sensory pathway. Long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) are emerging as new players in gene regulation, but how lncRNAs operate in the development of neuropathic pain is unclear. Here we identify a conserved lncRNA for Kcna2 (named Kcna2 antisense RNA) in first-order sensory neurons of rat dorsal root ganglion (DRG). Peripheral nerve injury increases Kcna2 antisense RNA expression in injured DRG through activation of myeloid zinc finger protein 1, a transcription factor that binds to Kcna2 antisense RNA gene promoter. Mimicking this increase downregulates Kcna2, reduces total Kv current, increases excitability in DRG neurons, and produces neuropathic pain symptoms. Blocking this increase reverses nerve injury-induced downregulation of DRG Kcna2 and attenuates development and maintenance of neuropathic pain. These findings suggest native Kcna2 antisense RNA as a new therapeutic target for the treatment of neuropathic pain.
PMCID: PMC3742386  PMID: 23792947
10.  Chemokine contribution to neuropathic pain: respective induction of CXCL1 and CXCR2 in spinal cord astrocytes and neurons 
Pain  2013;154(10):2185-2197.
Recent studies have indicated an important role of chemokines such as CCL2 in the development of chronic pain. However, the distinct roles of different chemokines in the development and maintenance of neuropathic pain and in their interactions with neurons have not been clearly elucidated. We found that spinal nerve ligation (SNL) not only induced persistent neuropathic pain symptoms including mechanical allodynia and heat hyperalgesia but also produced sustained CXCL1 upregulation in the spinal cord. Double staining of immunofluorescence and in situ hybridization revealed that CXCL1 was primarily induced in spinal astrocytes. In cultured astrocytes, TNF-α induced robust CXCL1 expression, via the activation of the c-jun N-terminal kinase (JNK). Intrathecal administration of CXCL1 neutralizing antibody transiently reduced SNL-induced pain hypersensitivity, suggesting an essential role of CXCL1 in neuropathic pain sensitization. In particular, intraspinal delivery of CXCL1 shRNA lentiviral vectors, either before or after SNL, persistently attenuated SNL-induced pain hypersensitivity. Spinal application of CXCL1 not only elicited pain hypersensitivity but also induced rapid neuronal activation, as indicated by the expression of phosphorylated ERK and CREB (pERK and pCREB) and c-Fos in spinal cord neurons. Interestingly, CXCR2, the primary receptor of CXCL1, was upregulated in dorsal horn neurons after SNL, and the CXCR2 antagonist SB225002 completely blocked the CXCL1-induced heat hyperalgesia. SB225002 also attenuated SNL-induced pain hypersensitivity. Collectively, our results have demonstrated a novel form of chemokine-mediated glial-neuronal interaction in the spinal cord that can drive neuropathic pain. Inhibition of the CXCL1-CXCR2 signaling may offer a new therapy for neuropathic pain management.
PMCID: PMC3899784  PMID: 23831863
Anesthesiology  2011;115(6):1281-1290.
Surgery often causes prolonged post-operative pain for which the mechanisms are unknown. Here we investigate the role of p38, a pain-associated Mitogen Activated Protein Kinase, in induction and maintenance of such pain.
Male rats were subjected to the Skin Muscle Incision Retraction procedure at the saphenous region that causes ~4 weeks of secondary tactile hyperalgesia in the ipsilateral plantar region, indicating central sensitization. Spinal cord was sectioned from L3 and L4+5 vertebral segments and stained for activated p38 (P-p38) at post-operative day 3 (POD3), just as secondary hyperalgesia develops, at POD10-12, the time of maximum hyperalgesia, and at POD35, after the resolution of hyperalgesia. Some sections were co-stained for microglia, astrocytes and neurons. Intrathecal injections of a P-p38 inhibitor, occurred at POD2 or POD9, and subsequent changes in pain monitored.
Skin Muscle Incision Retraction increased the numbers of dorsal horn P-p38 positive cells in L3 by ~3-fold and in L4+5 by ~7-fold, from POD3 to POD11-12. This increase was accompanied by a shift from microglia to neurons, resulting in a ~20-fold increase in P-p38 positive neurons in L4−5 over this time. No P-p38 was detected in astrocytes. A P-p38 inhibitor given at POD2 prevented development of secondary hypersensitivity, but when given at POD9 the same dose gave weak relief of pain for <3h.
Spinal P-p38 Mitogen Activated Protein Kinase, activated after incision-retraction, is important for the induction of prolonged pain, but despite increased levels near the time of maximum pain, its functional importance for the maintenance of pain is not great.
PMCID: PMC3226852  PMID: 21975276
12.  Chemokine CCL2 and its receptor CCR2 in the medullary dorsal horn are involved in trigeminal neuropathic pain 
Neuropathic pain in the trigeminal system is frequently observed in clinic, but the mechanisms involved are largely unknown. In addition, the function of immune cells and related chemicals in the mechanism of pain has been recognized, whereas few studies have addressed the potential role of chemokines in the trigeminal system in chronic pain. The present study was undertaken to test the hypothesis that chemokine C-C motif ligand 2 (CCL2)-chemokine C-C motif receptor 2 (CCR2) signaling in the trigeminal nucleus is involved in the maintenance of trigeminal neuropathic pain.
The inferior alveolar nerve and mental nerve transection (IAMNT) was used to induce trigeminal neuropathic pain. The expression of ATF3, CCL2, glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), and CCR2 were detected by immunofluorescence histochemical staining and western blot. The cellular localization of CCL2 and CCR2 were examined by immunofluorescence double staining. The effect of a selective CCR2 antagonist, RS504393 on pain hypersensitivity was checked by behavioral testing.
IAMNT induced persistent (>21 days) heat hyperalgesia of the orofacial region and ATF3 expression in the mandibular division of the trigeminal ganglion. Meanwhile, CCL2 expression was increased in the medullary dorsal horn (MDH) from 3 days to 21 days after IAMNT. The induced CCL2 was colocalized with astroglial marker GFAP, but not with neuronal marker NeuN or microglial marker OX-42. Astrocytes activation was also found in the MDH and it started at 3 days, peaked at 10 days and maintained at 21 days after IAMNT. In addition, CCR2 was upregulated by IAMNT in the ipsilateral medulla and lasted for more than 21 days. CCR2 was mainly colocalized with NeuN and few cells were colocalized with GFAP. Finally, intracisternal injection of CCR2 antagonist, RS504393 (1, 10 μg) significantly attenuated IAMNT-induced heat hyperalgesia.
The data suggest that CCL2-CCR2 signaling may be involved in the maintenance of orofacial neuropathic pain via astroglial–neuronal interaction. Targeting CCL2-CCR2 signaling may be a potentially important new treatment strategy for trigeminal neuralgia.
PMCID: PMC3391989  PMID: 22721162
13.  Emerging role of toll-like receptors in the control of pain and itch 
Neuroscience Bulletin  2012;28(2):131-144.
Toll-like receptors (TLRs) are germline-encoded pattern-recognition receptors (PRRs) to initiate innate immune responses by recognizing molecular structures shared by a wide range of pathogens, known as pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs). After tissue injury or cellular stress, TLRs can also detect endogenous ligands known as danger-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs). TLRs are expressed in various cell types in the central nervous system (CNS), including non-neuronal and neuronal cells, and contribute to both infectious and non-infectious disorders in the CNS. Following tissue insult and nerve injury, TLRs (such as TLR2, 3, and 4) induce the activation of microglia and astrocytes and the production of the proinflammatory cytokines in the spinal cord, leading to the development and maintenance of inflammatory pain and neuropathic pain. In particular, primary sensory neurons, such as nociceptors express TLRs (e.g., TLR4 and TLR7) to sense exogenous PAMPs and endogenous DAMPs released after tissue injury and cellular stress. These neuronal TLRs are new players in the processing of pain and itch by increasing the excitability of primary sensory neurons. Given the prevalence of chronic pain and itch and the suffering of the affected people, insights into TLR signaling in nervous system will open a new avenue for the management of clinical pain and itch.
PMCID: PMC3347759  PMID: 22466124
astrocytes; microglia; Toll-like receptor; Pain; itch; danger-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs); pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs)
14.  TLR3 deficiency impairs spinal cord synaptic transmission, central sensitization, and pruritus in mice 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2012;122(6):2195-2207.
Itch, also known as pruritus, is a common, intractable symptom of several skin diseases, such as atopic dermatitis and xerosis. TLRs mediate innate immunity and regulate neuropathic pain, but their roles in pruritus are elusive. Here, we report that scratching behaviors induced by histamine-dependent and -independent pruritogens are markedly reduced in mice lacking the Tlr3 gene. TLR3 is expressed mainly by small-sized primary sensory neurons in dorsal root ganglions (DRGs) that coexpress the itch signaling pathway components transient receptor potential subtype V1 and gastrin-releasing peptide. Notably, we found that treatment with a TLR3 agonist induces inward currents and action potentials in DRG neurons and elicited scratching in WT mice but not Tlr3–/– mice. Furthermore, excitatory synaptic transmission in spinal cord slices and long-term potentiation in the intact spinal cord were impaired in Tlr3–/– mice but not Tlr7–/– mice. Consequently, central sensitization–driven pain hypersensitivity, but not acute pain, was impaired in Tlr3–/– mice. In addition, TLR3 knockdown in DRGs also attenuated pruritus in WT mice. Finally, chronic itch in a dry skin condition was substantially reduced in Tlr3–/– mice. Our findings demonstrate a critical role of TLR3 in regulating sensory neuronal excitability, spinal cord synaptic transmission, and central sensitization. TLR3 may serve as a new target for developing anti-itch treatment.
PMCID: PMC3366391  PMID: 22565312
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.  Selective inhibition of JNK with a peptide inhibitor attenuates pain hypersensitivity and tumor growth in a mouse skin cancer pain model 
Experimental neurology  2009;219(1):146-155.
Cancer pain significantly affects the quality of cancer patients, and current treatments for this pain are limited. C-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) has been implicated in tumor growth and neuropathic pain sensitization. We investigated the role of JNK in cancer pain and tumor growth in a skin cancer pain model. Injection of luciferase-transfected B16-Fluc melanoma cells into a hindpaw of mouse induced robust tumor growth, as indicated by increase in paw volume and fluorescence intensity. Pain hypersensitivity in this model developed rapidly (<5 days) and reached a peak in 2 weeks, and was characterized by mechanical allodynia and heat hyperalgesia. Tumor growth was associated with JNK activation in tumor mass, dorsal root ganglion (DRG), and spinal cord and a peripheral neuropathy, such as loss of nerve fibers in the hindpaw skin and induction of ATF-3 expression in DRG neurons. Repeated systemic injections of D-JNKI-1 (6 mg/kg, i.p.), a selective and cell permeable peptide inhibitor of JNK, produced an accumulative inhibition of mechanical allodynia and heat hyperalgesia. A bolus spinal injection of D-JNKI-1 also inhibited mechanical allodynia. Further, JNK inhibition suppressed tumor growth in vivo and melanoma cell proliferation in vitro. In contrast, repeated injections of morphine (5 mg/kg), a commonly used analgesic for terminal cancer, produced analgesic tolerance after 1 day and did not inhibit tumor growth. Our data reveal a marked peripheral neuropathy in this skin cancer model and important roles of the JNK pathway in cancer pain development and tumor growth. JNK inhibitors such as D-JNKI-1 may be used to treat cancer pain.
PMCID: PMC2728781  PMID: 19445931
17.  Activation of JNK pathway in persistent pain 
Neuroscience letters  2008;437(3):180-183.
The c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) is a stress-activated member of MAP kinase family. JNK activation has been strongly implicated in inflammatory responses, neurodegeneration, and apoptosis. Recent evidence shows that JNK pathway is also transiently activated in primary sensory neurons after tissue or nerve injury, which is required for the development of hyperalgesia and allodynia. In particular, JNK is persistently activated in astrocytes of the spinal cord after nerve injury, and this activation can maintain central sensitization and mechanical allodynia. In this mini-review, we will provide evidence for the involvement of JNK pathway in regulating persistent pain sensitization. We will also discuss possible upstream signaling mechanisms that cause JNK activation and downstream signaling mechanisms by which JNK modulates pain sensitivity. Thus, targeting JNK pathway might be a useful strategy to treat both neurodegeneration and chronic pain.
PMCID: PMC2486445  PMID: 18455869
18.  JNK-induced MCP-1 production in spinal cord astrocytes contributes to central sensitization and neuropathic pain 
Our previous study showed that activation of c-jun-N-terminal kinase (JNK) in spinal astrocytes plays an important role in neuropathic pain sensitization. We further investigated how JNK regulates neuropathic pain. In cultured astrocytes, TNF-α transiently activated JNK via TNF receptor-1. Cytokine array indicated that the chemokine CCL2/MCP-1 (monocyte chemoattractant protein-1) was strongly induced by the TNF-α/JNK pathway. MCP-1 upregulation by TNF-α was dose-dependently inhibited by the JNK inhibitors SP600125 and D-JNKI-1. Spinal injection of TNF-α produced JNK-dependent pain hypersensitivity and MCP-1 upregulation in the spinal cord. Further, spinal nerve ligation (SNL) induced persistent neuropathic pain and MCP-1 upregulation in the spinal cord, and both were suppressed by D-JNKI-1. Remarkably, MCP-1 was primarily induced in spinal cord astrocytes after SNL. Spinal administration of MCP-1 neutralizing antibody attenuated neuropathic pain. Conversely, spinal application of MCP-1 induced heat hyperalgesia and phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) in superficial spinal cord dorsal horn neurons, indicative of central sensitization (hyperactivity of dorsal horn neurons). Patch clamp recordings in lamina II neurons of isolated spinal cord slices showed that MCP-1 not only enhanced spontaneous excitatory synaptic currents (sEPSCs) but also potentiated NMDA- and AMPA-induced currents. Finally, the MCP-1 receptor CCR2 was expressed in neurons and some non-neuronal cells in the spinal cord. Taken together, we have revealed a previously unknown mechanism of MCP-1 induction and action. MCP-1 induction in astrocytes following JNK activation contributes to central sensitization and neuropathic pain facilitation by enhancing excitatory synaptic transmission. Inhibition of the JNK/MCP-1 pathway may provide a new therapy for neuropathic pain management.
PMCID: PMC2682921  PMID: 19339605
MAP kinase; chemokine; CCL2; CCR2; TNF-α; nerve injury; glia; neural-glial interaction
19.  Activation of Extracellular Signal-Regulated Kinase in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex Contributes to the Induction and Expression of Affective Pain 
The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is implicated in the affective response to noxious stimuli. However, little is known about the molecular mechanisms involved. The present study demonstrated that extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) activation in the ACC plays a crucial role in pain-related negative emotion. Intraplantar formalin injection produced a transient ERK activation in laminae V–VI and a persistent ERK activation in laminae II–III of the rostral ACC (rACC) bilaterally. Using formalin-induced conditioned place avoidance (F-CPA) in rats, which is believed to reflect the pain-related negative emotion, we found that blockade of ERK activation in the rACC with MEK inhibitors prevented the induction of F-CPA. Interestingly, this blockade did not affect formalin-induced two-phase spontaneous nociceptive responses and CPA acquisition induced by electric foot-shock or U69,593, an innocuous aversive agent. Upstream, NMDA receptor, adenylyl cyclase (AC) and PKA activators activated ERK in rACC slices. Consistently, intra-rACC microinjection of AC or PKA inhibitors prevented F-CPA induction. Downstream, phosphorylation of cAMP response element binding protein (CREB) was induced in the rACC by formalin injection and by NMDA, AC and PKA activators in brain slices, which was suppressed by MEK inhibitors. Furthermore, ERK also contributed to the expression of pain-related negative emotion. Thus, when rats were re-exposed to the conditioning context for retrieval of pain experience, ERK and CREB were re-activated in the rACC, and inhibiting ERK activation blocked the expression of F-CPA. All together, our results demonstrate that ERK activation in the rACC is required for the induction and expression of pain-related negative affect.
PMCID: PMC2682784  PMID: 19279268
F-CPA; ERK; CREB; rostral anterior cingulate cortex; LTP; pain-related negative affect
20.  Involvement of P311 in the affective, but not in the sensory component of pain 
Molecular Pain  2008;4:23.
Pain is comprised of the sensory and affective components. Compared to the well-investigated mechanisms of the sensory pain, much less is known about the mechanisms underlying the affective pain. In recent years, accumulating evidence suggests that the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is a key structure for pain affection. To identify the molecules that may be involved in the affective component of pain, we have searched the Allen Brain Atlas expression database for genes whose expression is enriched in the ACC, and found that P311, an 8-kDa peptide, showed the strong expression in the ACC. P311 is also expressed in other areas associated with pain affection including the amygdala, insular cortex and thalamus. To understand the role of P311 in pain perception, we have examined the pain behaviors of the mice lacking P311. P311-/- mice showed normal heat and mechanical sensitivity, as well as normal formalin-induced inflammatory pain. In contrast, the formalin-induced avoidance behavior, which reflects pain-related negative emotion, was significantly attenuated in P311-/- mice relative to the control mice. These results suggest that P311 is involved in the affective, but not in the sensory component of pain. Our study thus provides the first evidence suggesting that the affective and sensory pain may be regulated by distinct molecular mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC2459156  PMID: 18549486
21.  Distinct roles of matrix metalloproteases in the early- and late-phase development of neuropathic pain 
Nature medicine  2008;14(3):331-336.
Treatment of neuropathic pain, triggered by multiple insults to the nervous system, is a clinical challenge because the underlying mechanisms of neuropathic pain development remain poorly understood 1-4. Most treatments do not differentiate between different phases of neuropathic pain pathophysiology and simply focus on blocking neurotransmission, producing transient pain relief. Here, we report that early and late phase neuropathic pain development after nerve injury require different matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). After spinal nerve ligation, MMP-9 shows a rapid and transient upregulation in injured DRG primary sensory neurons consistent with an early phase of neuropathic pain, whereas MMP-2 shows a delayed response in DRG satellite cells and spinal astrocytes consistent with a late phase of neuropathic pain. Local inhibition of MMP-9 via an intrathecal route inhibits the early phase of neuropathic pain, whereas inhibition of MMP-2 suppresses late phase of neuropathic pain. Further, intrathecal administration of MMP-9 or MMP-2 is sufficient to produce neuropathic pain symptoms. Following nerve injury, MMP-9 induces neuropathic pain through interleukin-1β cleavage and microglia activation at early times, whereas MMP-2 maintains neuropathic pain through interleukin-1β cleavage and astrocyte activation at later times. Inhibition of MMP may provide a novel therapeutic approach for the treatment of neuropathic pain at different phases.
PMCID: PMC2279180  PMID: 18264108

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