Peripheral nerve injury generally results in spinal neuronal and glial plastic changes associated with chronic behavioral hypersensitivity. Spinal mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs), e.g., p38 or extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERKs), are instrumental in the development of chronic allodynia in rodents, and new p38 inhibitors have shown potential in acute and neuropathic pain patients. We have previously shown that the cannabinoid type 2 receptor agonist JWH015 inhibits ERK activity by inducing MAPK phosphatase (MKP)-1 and MKP-3 (the major regulators of MAPKs) in vitro in microglial cells. Therefore, we decided to investigate the role of these phosphatases in the mechanisms of action of JWH015 in vivo using the rat L5 nerve transection model of neuropathic pain. We observed that peripheral nerve injury reduced spinal MKP-1/3 expression and activity and that intrathecal JWH015 reduced established L5 nerve-injury-induced allodynia, enhanced spinal MKP-1/3 expression and activity, and reduced the phosphorylated form of p38 and ERK-1/2. Triptolide, a pharmacological blocker of MKP-1 and MKP-3 expression, inhibited JWH015’s effects, suggesting that JWH015 exerts its antinociceptive effects by modulating MKP-1 and MKP-3. JWH015-induced antinociception and MKP-1 and MKP-3 expression were inhibited by the cannabinoid type 2 receptor antagonist AM630. Our data suggest that MKP-1 and MKP-3 are potential targets for novel analgesic drugs.
CB2 receptors; MKP; pain; spinal cord; MAPK
Neuropathic pain due to nerve injury is one of the most difficult types of pain to treat. Following peripheral nerve injury, neuronal and glial plastic changes contribute to central sensitization and perpetuation of mechanical hypersensitivity in rodents. The mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK) family is pivotal in this spinal cord plasticity. MAPK phosphatases (MKPs) limit inflammatory processes by dephosphorylating MAPKs. For example, MKP-1 preferentially dephosphorylates p-p38. Since spinal p-p38 is pivotal for the development of chronic hypersensitivity in rodent models of pain, and p-p38 inhibitors have shown clinical potential in acute and chronic pain patients, we hypothesize that induction of spinal MKP-1 will prevent the development of peripheral nerve-injury-induced hypersensitivity and p-p38 overexpression.
We cloned rat spinal cord MKP-1 and optimize MKP-1 cDNA in vitro using transfections to BV-2 cells. We observed that in vitro overexpression of MKP-1 blocked lipopolysaccharide-induced phosphorylation of p38 (and other MAPKs) as well as release of pro-algesic effectors (i.e., cytokines, chemokines, nitric oxide). Using this cDNA MKP-1 and a non-viral, in vivo nanoparticle transfection approach, we found that spinal cord overexpression of MKP-1 prevented development of peripheral nerve-injury-induced tactile hypersensitivity and reduced pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines and the phosphorylated form of p38.
Our results indicate that MKP-1, the natural regulator of p-p38, mediates resolution of the spinal cord pro-inflammatory milieu induced by peripheral nerve injury, resulting in prevention of chronic mechanical hypersensitivity. We propose that MKP-1 is a potential therapeutic target for pain treatment or prevention.
Phosphatases; MKP-1; Spinal cord; p38; Kinases; Allodynia; Nanoparticle; Nanotechnology
We previously reported leukocytic infiltration into the lumbar spinal cord in a rodent spinal nerve L5 transection (L5Tx) neuropathic pain model. Here, we further investigated the role of infiltrating T lymphocytes in the etiology of persistent pain following L5Tx. T lymphocyte deficient nude mice showed no evident mechanical hypersensitivity after day 3 of L5Tx compared to wild type BALB/c mice. Through FACS analysis, we determined that significant leukocytic infiltration (CD45hi) into the lumbar spinal cord peaked at day 7 post-L5Tx. These infiltrating leukocytes contained predominantly CD4+ but not CD8+ T lymphocytes. B lymphocytes, natural killer cells and macrophages were not detected at day 7 post-L5Tx. No differences in the activation of peripheral CD4+ T lymphocytes were detected in either the spleen or lumbar lymph nodes between L5Tx and sham surgery groups. Further, CD4 KO mice displayed significantly decreased mechanical hypersensitivity after day 7 of L5Tx and adoptive transfer of CD4+ leukocytes reversed this effect. Decreased immunoreactivity of glial fibrillary acidic protein observed in CD4 KO mice post-L5Tx indicated possible T lymphocyte-glial interactions. These results strongly support a contributing role of spinal cord infiltrating CD4+ T lymphocytes versus peripheral CD4+ T lymphocytes in the maintenance of nerve injury-induced neuropathic pain.
CD4+ T lymphocytes; Leukocyte infiltration; Nude mice; CD4 knockout mice
An alarming portion of patients develop persistent or chronic pain following surgical procedures, but the mechanisms underlying the transition from acute to chronic pain states are not fully understood. In general, endocannabinoids (ECBs) inhibit nociceptive processing by stimulating cannabinoid receptors type 1 (CB1) and type 2 (CB2). We have previously shown that intrathecal administration of a CB2 receptor agonist reverses both surgical incision-induced behavioral hypersensitivity and associated over-expression of spinal glial markers. We therefore hypothesized that endocannabinoid signaling promotes the resolution of acute postoperative pain by modulating pro-inflammatory signaling in spinal cord glial cells.
To test this hypothesis, rats receiving paw incision surgery were used as a model of acute postoperative pain that spontaneously resolves. We first characterized the concentration of ECBs and localization of CB1 and CB2 receptors in the spinal cord following paw incision. We then administered concomitant CB1 and CB2 receptor antagonists/inverse agonists (AM281 and AM630, 1 mg.kg−1 each, i.p.) during the acute phase of paw incision-induced mechanical allodynia and evaluated the expression of glial cell markers and phosphorylated p38 (a MAPK associated with inflammation) in the lumbar dorsal horn. Dual blockade of CB1 and CB2 receptor signaling prevented the resolution of postoperative allodynia and resulted in persistent over-expression of spinal Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein (GFAP, an astrocytic marker) and phospho-p38 in astrocytes. We provide evidence for the functional significance of these astrocytic changes by demonstrating that intrathecal administration of propentofylline (50 µg, i.t.) attenuated both persistent behavioral hypersensitivity and over-expression of GFAP and phospho-p38 in antagonist-treated animals.
Our results demonstrate that endocannabinoid signaling via CB1 and CB2 receptors is necessary for the resolution of paw incision-induced behavioral hypersensitivity and for the limitation of pro-inflammatory signaling in astrocytes following surgical insult. Our findings suggest that therapeutic strategies designed to enhance endocannabinoid signaling may prevent patients from developing persistent or chronic pain states following surgery.
Opioids, although fundamental to the treatment of pain, are limited in efficacy by side effects including tolerance and hyperalgesia. Using an in vitro culture system, we report that morphine increased microglial migration via a novel interaction between μ-opioid and P2X4 receptors, which is dependent upon PI3K/Akt pathway activation. Morphine at 100 nm enhanced migration of primary microglial cells toward adenosine diphosphate by 257, 247, 301, 394, and 345% following 2, 6, 12, 24, and 48 h of stimulation, respectively. This opioid-dependent migration effect was inhibited by naloxone and confirmed to be μ-opioid receptor-dependent through the use of selective agonists and antagonists. PPADS [pyridoxal phosphate-6-azo(benzene-2,4-disulfonic acid)], a P2X1–3,5–7 antagonist, had no effect on microglial migration; however, TNP-ATP [2′,3′-O-(2,4,6-trinitrophenyl)-ATP], a P2X1–7 antagonist, inhibited morphine-induced migration, suggesting a P2X4 receptor-mediated effect. The PI3K inhibitors wortmannin and LY294002 decreased morphine-induced microglial migration. Iba1 protein, a microglial marker, and P2X4 receptor expression were significantly increased after 6, 12, 24, and 48 h of morphine stimulation. Together, these results provide evidence for two phases of morphine effects on microglia. The initial phase takes place in minutes, involves PI3K/Akt pathway activation and leads to acutely enhanced migration. The longer-term phase occurs on the order of hours and involves increased expression of Iba1 and P2X4 receptor protein, which imparts a promigratory phenotype and is correlated with even greater migration. These data provide the first necessary step in supporting microglial migration as an attractive target for the prevention or attenuation of morphine-induced side effects including tolerance and hyperalgesia.
μ-opioid receptor; Iba1; PI3K; Akt; tolerance; hyperalgesia
We have previously demonstrated that central nervous system (CNS) toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) plays a key role in the development of behavioral hypersensitivity in a rodent model of neuropathic pain, spinal nerve L5 transection (L5Tx). TLR4 is a well-known receptor for lipopolysaccharide (LPS) in innate immune responses. In the current study, we further investigated the role of CD14, an accessory molecule in the LPS-TLR4 signaling pathway, in the development of L5Tx-induced neuropathic pain. CD14 knockout (KO) mice displayed significantly decreased behavioral sensitivity (mechanical allodynia and thermal hyperalgesia) as early as day 1 post-L5Tx, indicating a nociceptive role of CD14. By flow cytometric analyses, we observed significantly elevated microglial surface CD14 expression in the ipsilateral lumbar spinal cord 3 days post-L5Tx, as well as remarkable increases in microglial size (via forward scatter (FSC)) and granularity (via side scatter (SSC)). Further, intrathecal injection of soluble CD14 induced significantly greater mechanical hypersensitivity in wild type (C3H/HeN) mice compared to TLR4-deficient (C3H/HeJ) mice. Together, these data demonstrate that CD14 plays a contributing role in TLR4-dependent nerve injury-induced neuropathic pain.
Spinal nerve transection; TLR4; Mechanical allodynia and Thermal hyperalgesia
The treatment of acute and chronic pain is still deficient. The modulation of glial cells may provide novel targets to treat pain. We hypothesize that astrocytes and microglia participate in the initiation and maintenance of both, acute surgical and chronic neuropathic pain. Rats underwent paw incision, L5 nerve exposure or L5 nerve transection surgery. Behavioral mechanical allodynia was assessed using von Frey filaments. Immunohistochemistry was performed using anti-ionized calcium binding adaptor protein, Iba-1 (microglia), and anti-Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein, GFAP (astrocytes) on day 1, 4 and 7 after surgery. Following paw incision and at spinal L5 segment GFAP expression was increased in laminae I-II and Iba1 in deep laminae on day 1, in the entire dorsal horn on day 4 and dissipate on day 7 after paw incision in parallel with the allodynia. L5 nerve transection induced mechanical allodynia from day 1 to 7 which correlated with Iba-1 increases on day 1, 4 (entire dorsal horn) and day 7 after nerve injury (deep laminae of the dorsal horn) at spinal L5 segment. Conversely, GFAP increased at later time points from day 4 (deep laminae) and on day 7 (entire dorsal horn). Our data demonstrates that astrocytes (GFAP expression) play a role in the initiation of acute pain and the maintenance of chronic pain while Iba-1 increases closely correlated with the early phase of neuropathic pain. Iba1 and GFAP increased rostrally, at L3 segment, after paw incision (day 4) and only Iba1 increased following L5 nerve transection (day 7).
paw incision; neuropathic pain; postoperative pain; spinal cord; allodynia; glia
Chronic pain is the most difficult type of pain to treat. Previously, the development of analgesics has focused on neuronal targets; however, current analgesics are only modestly effective, have significant side effects and do not provide universal efficacy. New strategies are needed for the development of more effective analgesics. Glial cells have integral roles in CNS homeostasis, and chronic pain etiology and progression. In this review, the role of glia in neuropathic pain and opioid administration is described, as well as the potential superior efficacy and wider therapeutic indices provided by drugs that modulate specific glial function via novel targets.
Astrocyte; cannabinoid; microglia; minocycline; neuropathic pain; propentofylline
Cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CBR2) inhibits microglial reactivity through a molecular mechanism yet to be elucidated. We hypothesized that CBR2 activation induces an anti-inflammatory phenotype in microglia by inhibiting extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) pathway, via mitogen-activated protein kinase-phosphatase (MKP) induction. MKPs regulate mitogen activated protein kinases, but their role in the modulation of microglial phenotype is not fully understood.
JWH015 (a CBR2 agonist) increased MKP-1 and MKP-3 expression, which in turn reduced p-ERK1/2 in LPS-stimulated primary microglia. These effects resulted in a significant reduction of tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF) expression and microglial migration. We confirmed the causative link of these findings by using MKP inhibitors. We found that the selective inhibition of MKP-1 by Ro-31-8220 and PSI2106, did not affect p-ERK expression in LPS+JWH015-treated microglia. However, the inhibition of both MKP-1 and MKP-3 by triptolide induced an increase in p-ERK expression and in microglial migration using LPS+JWH015-treated microglia.
Our results uncover a cellular microglial pathway triggered by CBR2 activation. These data suggest that the reduction of pro-inflammatory factors and microglial migration via MKP-3 induction is part of the mechanism of action of CBR2 agonists. These findings may have clinical implications for further drug development.
We have previously shown that the atypical methylxanthine, propentofylline, reduces mechanical allodynia after peripheral nerve transection in a rodent model of neuropathy. In the present study, we sought to determine whether propentofylline-induced glial modulation alters spinal glutamate transporters, GLT-1 and GLAST in vivo, which may contribute to reduced behavioral hypersensitivity after nerve injury. In order to specifically examine the expression of the spinal glutamate transporters, a novel line of double transgenic GLT-1-eGFP/GLAST-DsRed promoter mice was used. Adult mice received propentofylline (10 mg/kg) or saline via intraperitoneal injection starting 1-hour prior to L5-spinal nerve transection and then daily for 12 days. Mice receiving saline exhibited punctate expression of both eGFP (GLT-1 promoter activation) and DsRed (GLAST promoter activation) in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord, which was decreased ipsilateral to nerve injury on day 12. Propentofylline administration reinstated promoter activation on the injured side as evidenced by an equal number of eGFP (GLT-1) and DsRed (GLAST) puncta in both dorsal horns. As demonstrated in previous studies, propentofylline induced a concomitant reversal of L5 spinal nerve transection-induced expression of Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein (GFAP). The ability of propentofylline to alter glial glutamate transporters highlights the importance of controlling aberrant glial activation in neuropathic pain and suggests one possible mechanism for the anti-allodynic action of this drug.
Spinal glia; Neuropathic pain; Neuroimmune; Peripheral nerve injury; Mice
Cannabinoids induce analgesia by acting on cannabinoid receptor (CBR) types 1 and/or 2. However, central nervous system side effects and antinociceptive tolerance from CBR1 limit their clinical use. CBR2 exist on spinal glia and perivascular cells, suggesting an immunoregulatory role of these receptors in the central nervous system. Previously, the authors showed that spinal CBR2 activation reduces paw incision hypersensitivity and glial activation. This study tested whether CBR2 are expressed in glia and whether their activation would induce antinociception, glial inhibition, central side effects, and antinociceptive tolerance in a neuropathic rodent pain model.
Rats underwent L5 spinal nerve transection or sham surgery, and CBR2 expression and cell localization were assessed by immunohistochemistry. Animals received intrathecal injections of CBR agonists and antagonists, and mechanical withdrawal thresholds and behavioral side effects were assessed.
Peripheral nerve transection induced hypersensitivity, increased expression of CR3/CD11b and CBR2, and reduced ED2/CD163 expression in the spinal cord. The CBR2 were localized to microglia and perivascular cells. Intrathecal JWH015 reduced peripheral nerve injury hypersensitivity and CR3/CD11b expression and increased ED2/CD163 expression in a dose-dependent fashion. These effects were prevented by intrathecal administration of the CBR2 antagonist (AM630) but not the CBR1 antagonist (AM281). JWH015 did not cause behavioral side effects. Chronic intrathecal JWH015 treatment did not induce antinociceptive tolerance.
These data indicate that intrathecal CBR2 agonists may provide analgesia by modulating the spinal immune response and microglial function in chronic pain conditions without inducing tolerance and neurologic side effects.
Considerable evidence exists for sex differences in human pain sensitivity. Women typically report a higher incidence of various painful conditions and report that the conditions are more painful when compared to men. In the present study, we sought to determine whether sex differences in pain sensitivity are observed using a lumbar radiculopathy model of low back pain in the rat and whether removal or alteration of gonadal hormones at specific timepoints can modulate these sex differences. Pubertal and adult male and female Sprague—Dawley rats were castrated 2 or 6 weeks prior to L5 nerve root injury to determine the activational hormonal effects. In a separate study, neonatal male and female Sprague—Dawley rats were either castrated or injected with testosterone, respectively, on postnatal day one to determine the organizational effects of gonadal hormones on L5 nerve root injury-induced behavioral hypersensitivity. Our results demonstrate that there was a statistically significant sex difference in the magnitude of mechanical allodynia and thermal hyperalgesia following experimentally induced radiculopathy in the rat: females demonstrated decreased thresholds to tactile and thermal stimuli as compared to males. Furthermore, the enhanced female hypersensitivity was reversed in pubertal and adult animals ovariectomized 6 weeks, but not 2 weeks prior to L5 nerve root injury. Our results demonstrate that the activational effects of gonadal hormones mediate the enhanced female tactile and thermal hypersensitivity following L5 nerve root injury. These results suggest that manipulation of gonadal hormones may be a potential source for novel therapies for chronic pain in women.
Low back pain animal model; Sex difference; Sex hormone; Sex differentiation
Glial–neuronal interactions are crucial processes in neuromodulation and synaptic plasticity. The neuregulin 1 family of growth and differentiation factors have been implicated as bidirectional signaling molecules that are involved in mediating some of these interactions. We have shown previously that neuregulin 1 expression is regulated by the gonadal hormones progesterone and 17β-estradiol in the CNS, which might represent a novel, indirect mechanism of the neuromodulatory actions of these gonadal hormones. In the present study, we sought to determine the effects of progesterone and 17β-estradiol on neuregulin 1 expression in rat cortical astrocytes and neurons in vitro. We observed that progesterone increased the expression of neuregulin 1 mRNA and protein in a dose-dependent manner in cultured astrocytes, which was blocked by the progesterone receptor antagonist RU-486. In contrast, 17β-estradiol did not increase either neuregulin 1 mRNA or protein in astrocytes. We observed no effect of either progesterone or 17β-estradiol on neuregulin 1 mRNA and protein in rat cortical neurons in vitro. Finally, we observed that treatment of cortical neurons with recombinant NRG1-β1 caused PSD-95 to localize in puncta similar to that observed following treatment with astrocyte-conditioned medium. These results demonstrate that progesterone regulates neuregulin 1 expression, principally in astrocytes. This might represent a novel mechanism of progesterone-mediated modulation of neurotransmission through the regulation of astrocyte-derived neuregulin 1.
Sex hormones; neuregulin; glial activation; PSD-95; NGR1
The release of inflammatory cytokines caused by a disrupted disc may play a critical role in pain production at nerve endings, axons, and nerve cell bodies. Herniated disc tissue has been shown to release inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-1 beta (IL-1β), interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumor necrosis factor (TNF), and other algesic chemicals. This study was designed to characterize the effects of these proinflammatory cytokines on the somatosensory neural response at the dorsal root level in rats. It is hypothesized that their effects on nerve endings in disc and adjacent tissue contribute to low-back pain, and the effects on dorsal root axons and ganglia contribute to radiculopathy and sciatica. Surgically isolated sacral dorsal roots were investigated by electrophysiologic techniques. IL-1β, IL-6, or TNF (100 ng, each) were applied onto the dorsal roots. Neural responses and mechanosensitivity of the receptive fields were evaluated over time. The results showed that 3 h after each cytokine application, the neural activity was statistically decreased. The mechanical sensitivity of the receptive fields increased at 90 min following IL-1β or TNF application, and returned to normal more than 3 h after IL-1β application. IL-1β, IL-6, and TNF may be neurotoxic to dorsal root axons. Furthermore IL-1β and TNF may sensitize the peripheral receptive fields. This study suggests that dorsal roots may be impaired by these proinflammatory cytokines.
Interleukin-1 beta Interleukin-6 Tumor necrosis factor Radiculopathy Low-back pain