Using a genetic model we demonstrate the role played by "phenotypic switching" of calcitonin gene related peptide (CGRP) expression in axotomized large Aβ afferents in the development of neuropathic pain behavior in rats. After nerve injury both substance P and CGRP are upregulated in Aβ afferents in the corresponding DRGs. It has been proposed that intraspinal release of these neurotransmitters upon gentle stroking of skin drives ascending pain signaling pathways resulting in tactile allodynia. We reported previously that in rat lines genetically selected for high (HA) vs. low (LA) pain phenotype, SP is upregulated equally in both strains, but that CGRP is upregulated exclusively in the pain prone HA line (Nitzan-Luques et al., 2011). This implicates CGRP as the principal driver of tactile allodynia. Here we confirm this conclusion by showing: 1) that the time of emergence of CGRP-IR in DRG Aβ neurons and their central terminals in HA rats matches that of pain behavior, 2) that following spinal nerve lesion (SNL) selective activation of low threshold afferents indeed drives postsynaptic pain-signaling neurons and induces central sensitization in HA rats, as monitored using c-Fos as a marker. These changes are much less prominent in LA rats, 3) that intrathecal (i.t.) administration of CGRP induces tactile allodynia in naïve rats and 4) that i.t. administration of the CGRP-receptor antagonist BIBN4096BS (Olcegepant) attenuates SNL-evoked tactile allodynia, without blocking baseline nociception. Together, these observations support the hypothesis that genotype-selective phenotypic switching of CGRP expression in Aβ afferents following nerve injury is a fundamental mechanism of neuropathic tactile allodynia.
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We thank Prof. Norman Grover for help with the statistical analysis, Dr. Inna Sukhotinsky for advice on immunohistochemistry and Dr. Nadav Ziv for his technical assistance. Boehringer Ingelheim (Pharma KG, Biberach, Germany) kindly provided BIBN4096BS. The study was supported by the Hebrew University Center for Research on Pain , the Israel Science Foundation and the European Community's 6th Framework Program (project LSHM-CT-2004-502800 Pain Genes). We declare no conflict of interest with regard to this paper. The manuscript reflects only the author's views. The European Community is not liable for any use of the information contained therein.