Differential contribution of the two phases of the formalin test to the pattern of c-fos expression in the rat spinal cord: Studies with remifentanil and lidocaine

Catherine Abbadie, Bradley K. Taylor, M. Alex Peterson, Allan I. Basbaum

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156 Scopus citations


Injection of formalin in the rat hindpaw produces two phases of nociceptive behavior. Although it is generally agreed that the first phase results from direct chemical activation of nociceptive primary afferent fibers, the factors that contribute to the second phase are not established. In the present study, we monitored the expression of the c-fos protein to evaluate whether the pattern of activity of dorsal horn neurons differs as a result of ongoing afferent activity during the two phases. To selectively block the first or second phase, we respectively used remifentanil, a potent and short acting opiate agonist, and QX-314, a quaternary derivative of lidocaine, which does not cross the blood brain barrier. We also evaluated the effect of eliminating nociceptive behavior in both phases using both remifentanil and lidocaine or a combination of local anesthetics, bupivicaine and quaternary lidocaine. In all groups, formalin (5%, 50 μl) was injected subcutaneously into the plantar surface of the hindpaw. To assess the nociceptive behavior produced by formalin, we monitored the number of flinches. Injection of remifentanil during the first phase completely blocked the first phase formalin-evoked nociceptive behavior, and had no effect on the second phase. Injection of lidocaine during the interphase completely blocked second phase nociceptive behavior. As expected, when remifentanil was administered during the first phase and lidocaine during the second phase, all formalin-evoked nociceptive behavior was blocked. The same was true for rats that received injections of bupivicaine and lidocaine during phases 1 and 2, respectively. In laminae I-II of the L4-L5 segment, the magnitude of the decrease in Fos expression was comparable for remifentanil (26.5%) and lidocaine (27.3%); the decrease was greater when both remifentanil and lidocaine were administered (50.5%), and even greater when bupivicaine and lidocaine were used (74.2%). In laminae V-VI, remifentanil, by itself, decreased c-fos expression by 39.4%; for lidocaine alone, the decrease was 58.4%. We did not observe further significant decreases when both remifentanil and lidocaine, or bupivacaine and lidocaine were injected (69.7% and 74.6%, respectively). Our results not only provide strong evidence that activity during the second phase is necessary for maintaining the maximal expression of c-fos in the spinal cord, but also reveal significant regional differences in the central patterns of activity generated during the two phases. These results also confirm our previous reports that c-fos expression is not eliminated when the behavioral manifestation of the noxious stimulus is completely blocked.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-110
Number of pages10
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jan 1997

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by NS 14627, 21445, DA 08377 and by INSERM (bourse de formation à l'étranger), France. We thank Glaxo-Wellcome for kindly providing the remifentanil.


  • Formalin test
  • Fos
  • Local anesthetic
  • Nociception
  • Opiates
  • Spinal cord


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