Nociceptive responses and spinal plastic changes of afferent C-fibers in three neuropathic pain models induced by sciatic nerve injury in the rat

Laura Casals-Díaz, Meritxell Vivó, Xavier Navarro
Experimental Neurology 2009, 217 (1): 84-95
Peripheral nerve injuries induce plastic changes on primary afferent fibers and on the spinal circuitry, which are related to the emergence of neuropathic pain. In this study we compared three models of sciatic nerve injury in the rat with different degrees of damage and impact on regeneration capability: crush nerve injury, chronic constriction injury (CCI) and spared nerve injury (SNI). All three models were characterized by means of nerve histology, in order to describe the degenerative and regenerative process of injured axons. Nociceptive responses were evaluated by mechanical and thermal algesimetry tests. Crush animals displayed higher withdrawal thresholds on the ipsilateral paw compared to the contralateral during the time of denervation, while CCI and SNI animals showed mechanical and thermal hyperalgesia. Central plasticity was evaluated by immunohistochemical labeling of non-peptidergic (IB4-positive) and peptidergic (substance P-positive) nociceptive C-fibers on L4-L6 spinal cord sections. After crush nerve injury and SNI, we observed progressive and sustained reduction of IB4 and SP immunolabeling at the sciatic projection territory in the superficial laminae of the dorsal horn, which affected only the tibial and peroneal nerves projection areas in the case of SNI. After CCI, changes on SP-immunoreactivity were not observed, and IB4-immunoreactive area decreased initially but recovered to normal levels on the second week post-injury. Thus, nociceptive responses depend on the type of injury, and the immunoreactivity pattern of afferent fibers at the spinal cord display changes less pronounced after partial than complete sciatic nerve injury. Although signs of neuropathic pain appear in all three lesion models, nociceptive responses and central plasticity patterns differ between them.

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