Vagal afferents are necessary for the establishment but not the maintenance of kainic acid-induced hyperalgesia in mice

Duc Tien, Peter T. Ohara, Alice A. Larson, Luc Jasmin

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16 Scopus citations


Systemic administration of a single, sub-convulsive dose (20mg/kg) of kainic acid (KA) produces long-term hyperalgesia. The robustness and reproducibility of this effect makes this a valuable model of chronic pain. However, the mechanism by which KA produces hyperalgesia remains unknown. We evaluated the role of vagal afferents on KA-induced hyperalgesia in mice by assessing the influence of bilateral subdiaphragmatic vagotomy and of direct application of KA to vagal afferents on the development of hyperalgesia. The hot plate and tail flick tests were used to assess pain behavior. Central nervous system (CNS) activity evoked by acute administration of KA or exposure to a nociceptive stimulus was also determined by the immunocytochemical detection of Fos and of phosphorylated extracellular signal-regulated protein kinases 1 and 2 (pErk). Mice exhibited a persistent hyperalgesia after either systemic application of KA or topical treatment with KA on vagal afferents. Vagotomy performed 2 weeks before the application of KA was able to prevent the establishment of hyperalgesia, but vagotomy performed 2 weeks after the application of KA was unable to reverse the already established hyperalgesia. This result establishes that vagal afferents are pivotal to the onset of hyperalgesia. Consistent with this, KA evoked the expression of Fos in vagal related areas of the brainstem, including the nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS) and area postrema (AP), as well as widespread areas of the forebrain. Vagotomy selectively decreased KA-evoked Fos in the NTS while sparing that in other brain areas. In addition to hyperalgesia, weeks after KA treatment, stimulus induced pErk was increased in spinal nociceptive neurons and the medial hypothalamus, a phenomenon that was prevented by prior vagotomy. No signs of cell death were detected using in situ nick end-labeling (TUNEL) assay and Nissl staining at 1, 5, 24, 36h and 12 days post-KA. These findings suggest that the mechanism underlying KA-induced hyperalgesia is a long-term dysfunction of CNS areas that are activated by vagal afferents and involved in descending control of spinal nociceptive neurons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-49
Number of pages11
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Mar 2003

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank Drs Jon Levine and Wilfrid Jänig for their thoughtful comments on this study, Kelley F. Kitto for his expert technical assistance, and Gabriella Janni for her editorial comments. This research was supported by NIH grants AR46085 (L.J.) from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases and NS39740 (A.A.L.) funded jointly by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the National Institutes of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.


  • Morphine
  • Nociceptive threshold
  • Nodose ganglion
  • Pain
  • Vagus nerve


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