Alterations in neuropeptide Y, tyrosine hydroxylase, and Y-receptor subtype distribution following spinal nerve injury to rats

J E Marchand, M S Cepeda, D B Carr, W H Wurm, R M Kream
Pain 1999, 79 (2): 187-200
Recent animal models of experimental nerve injury have proven useful in evaluating potential sympathetic involvement in neuropathic pain syndromes. We have employed a widely adopted unilateral L5/L6 spinal nerve ligation model to compare the development of mechanical allodynia with neurochemical changes both at the site of peripheral nerve injury and in the dorsal root ganglia (DRG). We have focused on the expression of neuropeptide Y (NPY), a well-studied regulatory peptide and phenotypic marker of sympathetic neurons, and functionally related Y-receptor binding sites following nerve injury. In sympathetic neurons, NPY is colocalized and coreleased with norepinephrine (NE) at peripheral sites of action. Furthermore, NPY gene expression is induced within the population of medium- and large-diameter DRG neurons of the A beta-fiber class after experimental nerve injury. We therefore hypothesized that concurrent alterations in NPY and NE expression by sympathetic and sensory neurons may be a contributing factor to sympathetically-maintained neuropathic conditions. Animals with unilateral L5/L6 spinal nerve ligation developed mechanical allodynia of the hind paw ipsilateral to the site of injury that persisted until sacrifice at postoperative day 10. A significant induction of preproneuropeptide Y-encoding (PPNPY) mRNA, as detected by in situ hybridization histochemistry (ISHH), occurred in populations of medium- and large-diameter DRG neurons ipsilateral to the site of injury. Immunohistochemical analysis indicated a marked decline in the number of labeled sympathetic axons positive for tyrosine hydroxylase-like and NPY-like immunoreactivities (TH-LI and NPY-LI, respectively) proximal to the site of nerve injury and almost complete elimination of immunopositive fibers distal to the site of ligation. Whereas, the extent of colocalization of NPY-LI to TH-LI-positive sympathetic axons in unaffected L4 or L5 nerve segments exceeded 80%, this figure declined to approximately 50% in regenerating axons of ligated spinal nerve L5. The portion of NPY-LI that was not colocalized to sympathetic TH-LI-positive fibers was most likely contributed by regenerating sensory axons, consistent with marked de novo synthesis of NPY by DRG neurons. In end bulb axon terminals, i.e. morphological profiles characteristic of neuromas, NPY-LI-positive elements that were not colocalized to TH-LI-positive sympathetic elements appeared to be spatially segregated from those of sympathetic origin with colocalized TH-LI and NPY-LI. Receptor autoradiography indicated that small- and medium-diameter DRG somata of the C-fiber class normally express both Y1 and Y2 receptor subtypes. The pattern of the distribution of Y-receptor binding sites appeared to be relatively unaffected by spinal nerve ligation. In contrast, there was a marked increase in the density of Y2 receptor binding sites in the proximal segment of ligated spinal nerve L5, consistent with previously published data indicating differential transport of the Y2 autoregulatory receptor subtype to nerve terminals. Induction of NPY gene expression in injured DRG neurons is consistent with appearance of NPY-LI-positive end bulbs derived from regenerating sensory axons that are found in developing neuromas containing a relatively high density of transported prejunctional Y2 receptors. Newly established functional interactions of spatially segregated sensory- and sympathetically-derived end bulbs in developing neuromas may enhance neuronal hyperexcitability engendered by aberrant electrical activity at the site of injury. Injury-related alterations in the regulatory activities of NPY released within the DRG at somally-distributed Y-receptors may also contribute to the development and/or persistence of symptoms characteristic of sympathetically-maintained pain. Finally, at later times NPY-mediated modulation of NE release from invading sympathetic axon terminals within the DRG may affect the extent of alpha2 rece

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