The most common type of chronic pain following spinal cord injury (SCI) is central neuropathic pain and SCI patients typically experience mechanical allodynia and thermal hyperalgesia. The present study was designed to examine the potential role of astrocyte gap junction connectivity in the induction and maintenance of "below-level" neuropathic pain in SCI rats. We examined the effect of intrathecal treatment with carbenoxolone (CARB), a gap junction decoupler, on SCI-induced bilateral thermal hyperalgesia and mechanical allodynia during the induction phase (postoperative days 0 to 5) and the maintenance phase (days 15 to 20) following T13 spinal cord hemisection. Immunohistochemistry was performed to determine potential SCI-induced changes in spinal astrocyte activation and phosphorylation of the NMDA receptor NR1 subunit (pNR1). CARB administered during the induction period dose-dependently attenuated the development of bilateral thermal hyperalgesia and mechanical allodynia. Intrathecal CARB also significantly reduced the bilateral SCI-induced increase in GFAP-immunoreactive (ir) staining and the number of pNR1-ir cell profiles in the spinal cord dorsal horn compared to vehicle-treated rats. In contrast, CARB treatment during the maintenance phase had no effect on the established thermal hyperalgesia and mechanical allodynia nor on spinal GFAP expression or the number of pNR1-ir cell profiles. These results indicate that gap junctions play a critical role in the activation of astrocytes distant from the site of SCI and in the subsequent phosphorylation of NMDA receptors in the lumbar spinal cord. Both of these processes appear to contribute to the induction of bilateral below-level pain in SCI rats.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was supported by a grant ( 2009K001256 ) from Brain Research Center of the 21st Century Frontier Research Program funded by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the Republic of Korea . This study was also supported by a grant of the Korea Healthcare Technology R&D Project, Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs, the Republic of Korea ( A090510 ).
- Gap junction
- NMDA receptor
- Neuropathic pain
- Spinal cord injury