Spinal neurons that possess the substance P receptor are required for the development of central sensitization
In previous studies, we have shown that loss of spinal neurons that possess the substance P receptor (SPR) attenuated pain and hyperalgesia produced by capsaicin, inflammation, and nerve injury. To determine the role of SPR-expressing neurons in modulating pain and hyperalgesia, responses of superficial and deep lumbar spinal dorsal horn neurons evoked by mechanical and heat stimuli and by capsaicin were made after ablation of SPR-expressing neurons using the selective cytotoxin conjugate substance P-saporin (SP-SAP). Morphological analysis and electrophysiological recordings were made after intrathecal infusion of vehicle, saporin alone, or SP-SAP. SP-SAP, but not vehicle or SAP alone, produced an approximately 62% decrease in SPR-expressing neurons in the dorsal horn. Loss of SPR-expressing neurons diminished the responses of remaining neurons to intraplantar injection of capsaicin. Peak responses to 10 microg of capsaicin were approximately 65% lower in animals pretreated with SP-SAP compared with controls. Additionally, sensitization to mechanical and heat stimuli that normally follows capsaicin was rarely observed. Importantly, responses to mechanical and heat stimuli in the absence of capsaicin were not altered after SP-SAP treatment. In addition, nociceptive neurons did not exhibit windup in the SP-SAP-treated group. These results demonstrate that SPR-expressing neurons located in the dorsal horn are a pivotal component of the spinal circuits involved in triggering central sensitization and hyperalgesia. It appears that this relatively small population of neurons can regulate the physiological properties of other nociceptive neurons and drive central sensitization.
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