Chronic pain and immunity: mononeuropathy alters immune responses in rats

U. Herzberg, M. Murtaugh, A. J. Beitz

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18 Scopus citations


In order to investigate the possible relationship between chronic pain and the immune system, delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) and humoral immunity were assessed in Sprague-Dawley rats subjected to unilateral peripheral mononeuropathy induced by sciatic ligation. Paw withdrawal latency (PWL) time was measured twice during the experiment in animals subjected to sciatic nerve ligation or sham surgery. Sciatic nerve-ligated animals showed hyperalgesia in the leg subjected to neural ligation when compared to the contralateral leg. No differences in PWL times existed in sham-operated animals. In order to exclude possible alterations in immune response due to the surgical procedure or to the hyperalgesia testing, a group of control animals, not subjected to surgical procedures or hyperalgesia testing, was also included in the experiment. Three days post-sciatic ligation or sham surgery, both experimental and control animals were sensitized to keyhole limpet hemocyanin (KLH). A secondary sensitization followed 1 week after the initial immunization. Fourteen days after the initial sensitization, KLH was injected into the hind foot pad and vehicle into the contralateral foot pad in order to assess DTH. One group of rats subjected to sciatic nerve ligation was tested for DTH in the hind foot pad ipsilateral to the ligated nerve, while another group was tested in the contralateral foot pad. Twenty-four hours following foot pad injections, the thickness of both paws was measured and animals were bled to test for anti-KLH immunoglobulins. Animals in which mononeuropathy was induced, but not sham-operated or control animals, exhibited an enhanced DTH response to KLH. This enhanced DTH response occurred both ipsilateral and contralateral to the ligated nerve. This increased response was blocked in both cases by the local anesthetic bupivicaine. Two sham-surgery groups and a normal control group were tested similarly. Gamma-immunoglobulin levels against KLH were significantly reduced in the hyperalgesic animals when compared to control animals but were similar when compared to sham-operated animals. This study suggests that chronic nociception causes significant alterations in immune function and strengthens the hypothesis that chronic pain can influence the immune system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-225
Number of pages7
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 1994

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supportedb y the following grants: NIH DA06687, DE06682 DC01086, MIN 63-27 (Agricultural Experimenta Station, University of Minnesota). Uri Herzberg is partially supported by the Psychoneuroimm~nolo~p rogram at the Hennepin County Medical Center Grant DA0 7239-03W. e thank Terri Pettey for providings killful surgicala ssistance.


  • Chronic pain
  • Delayed-type hypersensitivity
  • Humoral immunity
  • Immune system
  • Peripheral mononeuropathy
  • Sciatic ligation


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