Hypersensitivity of spinothalamic tract neurons associated with diabetic neuropathic pain in rats

Shao-Rui Chen, Hui-Lin Pan
Journal of Neurophysiology 2002, 87 (6): 2726-33
Diabetic neuropathic pain is often considered to be caused by peripheral neuropathy. The involvement of the CNS in this pathological condition has not been well documented. Development of hypersensitivity of spinal dorsal horn neurons is involved in neuropathic pain induced by traumatic nerve injury. In the present study, we determined the functional changes of identified spinothalamic tract (STT) neurons and their correlation to diabetic neuropathic pain. Diabetes was induced in rats by intraperitoneal injection of streptozotocin. Hyperalgesia and allodynia were assessed by the withdrawal responses to pressure, radiant heat, and von Frey filaments applied to the hindpaw. Single-unit activity of STT neurons was recorded from the lumbar spinal cord in anesthetized rats. The responses of STT neurons to mechanical and thermal stimuli and the sensitivity to intravenous morphine were determined in diabetic and normal rats. In 12 diabetic rats, mechanical allodynia and hyperalgesia, but not thermal hyperalgesia, developed within 2 wk after streptozotocin injection and lasted for >/=7 wk. Compared to the 32 STT neurons recorded in normal animals, the 37 STT neurons in diabetic rats displayed a higher spontaneous discharge activity and enlarged receptive fields. Also, the STT neurons in diabetic rats exhibited lower thresholds and augmented responses to mechanical stimulation. Intravenous injection of 2.5 mg/kg of morphine suppressed significantly the responses of STT neurons to noxious stimuli in 12 nondiabetic rats. However, such an inhibitory effect of morphine on the evoked response of STT neurons was diminished in 14 diabetic animals. This electrophysiological study provides new information that development of hypersensitivity of spinal dorsal horn projection neurons may be closely related to neuropathic pain symptoms caused by diabetes. Furthermore, the attenuated inhibitory effects of morphine on evoked responses of STT neurons in diabetes likely accounts for its reduced analgesic efficacy in this clinical form of neuropathic pain.

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