Transient receptor potential (TRP) receptors expressed by primary sensory neurons mediate thermosensitivity, and may play a role in sensory pathophysiology. We previously reported that human dorsal root ganglion (DRG) sensory neurons co-expressed TRPV1 and TRPV3, and that these were increased in injured human DRG. Related receptors TRPV4, activated by warmth and eicosanoids, and TRPM8, activated by cool and menthol, have been characterised in pre-clinical models. However, the role of TRPs in common clinical sensory neuropathies needs to be established.
We have studied TRPV1, TRPV3, TRPV4, and TRPM8 in nerves (n = 14) and skin from patients with nerve injury, avulsed dorsal root ganglia (DRG) (n = 11), injured spinal nerve roots (n = 9), diabetic neuropathy skin (n = 8), non-diabetic neuropathic nerve biopsies (n = 6), their respective control tissues, and human post mortem spinal cord, using immunohistological methods.
TRPV1 and TRPV3 were significantly increased in injured brachial plexus nerves, and TRPV1 in hypersensitive skin after nerve repair, whilst TRPV4 was unchanged. TRPM8 was detected in a few medium diameter DRG neurons, and was unchanged in DRG after avulsion injury, but was reduced in axons and myelin in injured nerves. In diabetic neuropathy skin, TRPV1 expressing sub- and intra-epidermal fibres were decreased, as was expression in surviving fibres. TRPV1 was also decreased in non-diabetic neuropathic nerves. Immunoreactivity for TRPV3 was detected in basal keratinocytes, with a significant decrease of TRPV3 in diabetic skin. TRPV1-immunoreactive nerves were present in injured dorsal spinal roots and dorsal horn of control spinal cord, but not in ventral roots, while TRPV3 and TRPV4 were detected in spinal cord motor neurons.
The accumulation of TRPV1 and TRPV3 in peripheral nerves after injury, in spared axons, matches our previously reported changes in avulsed DRG. Reduction of TRPV1 levels in nerve fibres in diabetic neuropathy skin may result from the known decrease of nerve growth factor (NGF) levels. The role of TRPs in keratinocytes is unknown, but a relationship to changes in NGF levels, which is produced by keratinocytes, deserves investigation. TRPV1 represents a more selective therapeutic target than other TRPs for pain and hypersensitivity, particularly in post-traumatic neuropathy.