Stimulation-induced expression of immediate early gene proteins in the dorsal horn is increased in neuropathy
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Background and aims: Peripheral neuropathic pain is described as a pain state caused by an injury or dysfunction of the nervous system, and could have clinical manifestations such as hyperalgesia, allodynia and spontaneous pain. The development of neuropathic pain may depend on long-term forms of neuronal plasticity in the spinal cord (SC). Expression of the immediate early gene proteins (IEGPs) Arc, Zif268, and c-Fos are implicated in establishment of long-term potentiation (LTP) induced by conditioning stimulation (CS) of primary afferent fibres. However, the impact of the neuropathic state (Bennett's model) on CS-induced expression of IEGPs has not been studied. The aim of this study was to compare the levels of Arc, c-Fos and Zif268 immunoreactivity prior to and after conditioning stimulation in animals with developed neuropathic pain, with sham operated, non-ligated controls.
Methods: Twenty-four animals were divided equally into the neuropathic and non-neuropathic groups. Neuropathic pain was induced in all animals by conducting a loose ligation of the sciatic nerve with Chromic Catgut 4.0 sutures 7 days prior to conditioning stimulation or sham operation. The loose ligation was performed by placing sutures around the sciatic nerve compressing the nerve slightly just enough to reduce but not completely diminish the perineural circulation. A state of neuropathy was confirmed by a significant decrease in mechanical withdrawal threshold measured by von Frey's fibres. Immunohistochemical analysis was performed on transverse sections obtained from the L3–L5 segments of the SC at 2 and 6 h post-CS and IEGP positive cells were counted in lamina I and II of the dorsal horn. During statistical analyses, the groups were compared by means of analysis of variance (univariate general linear model). If significant differences were found, each set of animals was compared with the sham group with post hoc Tukey's multiple comparison test.
Results: Strikingly, all IEGPs exhibited a significant increase in immunoreactivity at both time points compared to time-matched, sham operated controls. Maximal IEGP expression was found 2 h after CS in neuropathic rats, and there was a smaller but still significant increase 6 h after CS. The unstimulated side of the dorsal horn in stimulated animals did not show any significant change of the number of IEGP positive cells and was approximately at the same level as sham operated animals. The number of IEGP positive cells in sham operated controls (non-neuropathic and non-stimulated animals) showed same immunoreactivity in 2 and 6 h post sham operation.
Conclusions and implications: The neurophysiological process of neuropathic pain development is complex and needs to be studied further in order to clarify its nature and components. This present study is meant to reveal a step towards further understanding the role of Arc, c-Fos and Zif268 in neuropathic pain. Moreover, this study might contribute to the knowledge base for further research on better therapeutic possibilities for neuropathic pain.