Engaging pain fibers after a spinal cord injury fosters hemorrhage and expands the area of secondary injury.
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In humans, spinal cord injury (SCI) is often accompanied by additional tissue damage (polytrauma) that can engage pain (nociceptive) fibers. Prior work has shown that this nociceptive input can expand the area of tissue damage (secondary injury), undermine behavioral recovery, and enhance the development of chronic pain. Here, it is shown that nociceptive input given a day after a lower thoracic contusion injury in rats enhances the infiltration of red blood cells at the site of injury, producing an area of hemorrhage that expands secondary injury. Peripheral nociceptive fibers were engaged 24h after injury by means of electrical stimulation (shock) applied at an intensity that engages unmyelinated pain (C) fibers or through the application of the irritant capsaicin. Convergent western immunoblot and cyanmethemoglobin colorimetric assays showed that both forms of stimulation increased the concentration of hemoglobin at the site of injury, with a robust effect observed 3-24h after stimulation. Histopathology confirmed that shock treatment increased the area of hemorrhage and the infiltration of red blood cells. SCI can lead to hemorrhage by engaging the sulfonylurea receptor 1 (SUR1) transient receptor potential melastatin 4 (TRPM4) channel complex in neurovascular endothelial cells, which leads to cell death and capillary fragmentation. Histopathology confirmed that areas of hemorrhage showed capillary fragmentation. Co-immunoprecipitation of the SUR1-TRPM4 complex showed that it was up-regulated by noxious stimulation. Shock-induced hemorrhage was associated with an acute disruption in locomotor performance. These results imply that noxious stimulation impairs long-term recovery because it amplifies the breakdown of the blood spinal cord barrier (BSCB) and the infiltration of red blood cells, which expands the area of secondary injury.