Nerve injury proximal or distal to the DRG induces similar spinal glial activation and selective cytokine expression but differential behavioral responses to pharmacologic treatment

B A Winkelstein, M D Rutkowski, S M Sweitzer, J L Pahl, J A DeLeo
Journal of Comparative Neurology 2001 October 15, 439 (2): 127-39
The specific mechanisms by which nervous system injury becomes a chronic pain state remain undetermined. Historically, it has been believed that injuries proximal or distal to the dorsal root ganglion (DRG) produce distinct pathologies that manifest in different severity of symptoms. This study investigated the role of injury site relative to the DRG in (1) eliciting behavioral responses, (2) inducing spinal neuroimmune activation, and (3) responding to pharmacologic interventions. Rats received either an L5 spinal nerve transection distal to the DRG or an L5 nerve root injury proximal to the DRG. Comparative studies assessed behavioral nociceptive responses, spinal cytokine mRNA and protein expression, and glial activation after injury. In separate studies, intrathecal pharmacologic interventions by using selective cytokine antagonists (interleukin-1 [IL-1] receptor antagonist and soluble tumor necrosis factor [TNF] receptor) and a global immunosuppressant (leflunomide) were performed to determine their relative effectiveness in these injury paradigms. Behavioral responses assessed by mechanical allodynia and thermal hyperalgesia were almost identical in the two models of persistent pain, suggesting that behavioral testing may not be a sensitive measure of injury. Spinal IL-1beta, IL-6, IL-10, and TNF mRNA and IL-6 protein were significantly elevated in both injuries. The overall magnitude of expression and temporal patterns were similar in both models of injury. The degree of microglial and astrocytic activation in the L5 spinal cord was also similar for both injuries. In contrast, the pharmacologic treatments were more effective in alleviating mechanical allodynia for peripheral nerve injury than nerve root injury, suggesting that nerve root injury elicits a more robust, centrally mediated response than peripheral nerve injury. Overall, these data implicate alternate nociceptive mechanisms in these anatomically different injuries that are not distinguished by behavioral testing or the neuroimmune markers used in this study.

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