Spatial and temporal activation of spinal glial cells: Role of gliopathy in central neuropathic pain following spinal cord injury in rats

Department of Neuroscience and Cell Biology, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, TX 77555, USA.
Experimental Neurology (Impact Factor: 4.62). 10/2011; 234(2):362-72. DOI: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2011.10.010
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT In the spinal cord, neuron and glial cells actively interact and contribute to neurofunction. Surprisingly, both cell types have similar receptors, transporters and ion channels and also produce similar neurotransmitters and cytokines. The neuroanatomical and neurochemical similarities work synergistically to maintain physiological homeostasis in the normal spinal cord. However, in trauma or disease states, spinal glia become activated, dorsal horn neurons become hyperexcitable contributing to sensitized neuronal-glial circuits. The maladaptive spinal circuits directly affect synaptic excitability, including activation of intracellular downstream cascades that result in enhanced evoked and spontaneous activity in dorsal horn neurons with the result that abnormal pain syndromes develop. Recent literature reported that spinal cord injury produces glial activation in the dorsal horn; however, the majority of glial activation studies after SCI have focused on transient and/or acute time points, from a few hours to 1 month, and peri-lesion sites, a few millimeters rostral and caudal to the lesion site. In addition, thoracic spinal cord injury produces activation of astrocytes and microglia that contributes to dorsal horn neuronal hyperexcitability and central neuropathic pain in above-level, at-level and below-level segments remote from the lesion in the spinal cord. The cellular and molecular events of glial activation are not simple events, rather they are the consequence of a combination of several neurochemical and neurophysiological changes following SCI. The ionic imbalances, neuroinflammation and alterations of cell cycle proteins after SCI are predominant components for neuroanatomical and neurochemical changes that result in glial activation. More importantly, SCI induced release of glutamate, proinflammatory cytokines, ATP, reactive oxygen species (ROS) and neurotrophic factors trigger activation of postsynaptic neuron and glial cells via their own receptors and channels that, in turn, contribute to neuronal-neuronal and neuronal-glial interaction as well as microglia-astrocytic interactions. However, a systematic review of temporal and spatial glial activation following SCI has not been done. In this review, we describe time and regional dependence of glial activation and describe activation mechanisms in various SCI models in rats. These data are placed in the broader context of glial activation mechanisms and chronic pain states. Our work in the context of work by others in SCI models demonstrates that dysfunctional glia, a condition called "gliopathy", is a key contributor in the underlying cellular mechanisms contributing to neuropathic pain.

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