Neuronal loss in the rostral ventromedial medulla in a rat model of neuropathic pain

Mai Lan Leong, Ming Gu, Rebecca Speltz-Paiz, Eleanor I. Stahura, Neli Mottey, Clifford J. Steer, Martin Wessendorf

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69 Scopus citations


Cell death has been reported in the CNS in models of neuropathic pain (Sugimoto et al., 1990; Whiteside and Munglani, 2001; Scholz et al., 2005; Fuccio et al., 2009). In our present study, we examined the effects of spinal nerve ligation (SNL) on the number of neurons in the rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM), a brainstem region involved in modulation of nociception. In rats receiving SNL, we found that the number of RVM neurons decreased by 23% in the side ipsilateral to the surgery. The loss of RVM neurons was also associated with a bilateral increase in the number of glia as well as bilateral activation of both astrocytes and microglia. Administration of tauroursodeoxycholic acid (TUDCA), which reportedly inhibits apoptosis, significantly reduced the loss of neurons, the increase in glia, and the mechanical hypersensitivity induced by SNL. Among RVM neurons, we found that serotonergic (5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT) neurons decreased by 35% ipsilateral to SNL. Consistent with these findings, the density of 5-HT-immunoreactive varicosities in the superficial dorsal horn of the spinal cord was 15-30% lower, ipsilateral to SNL. To test the function of the remaining 5-HT neurons, we administered the 5-HT neurotoxin, 5,7-dihydroxytryptamine (5,7-DHT). Interestingly, after 5,7-DHT, mechanical withdrawal thresholds increased significantly. We conclude that nerve injury induces death of antinociceptiveRVMneurons that can be reduced or abolished by TUDCA. We propose that the loss of RVM neurons shifts the balance of descending control from pain inhibition to pain facilitation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17028-17039
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number47
StatePublished - Nov 23 2011


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