Peripheral noxious stimulation reduces withdrawal threshold to mechanical stimuli after spinal cord injury: role of tumor necrosis factor alpha and apoptosis.
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We previously showed that peripheral noxious input after spinal cord injury (SCI) inhibits beneficial spinal plasticity and impairs recovery of locomotor and bladder functions. These observations suggest that noxious input may similarly affect the development and maintenance of chronic neuropathic pain, an important consequence of SCI. In adult rats with a moderate contusion SCI, we investigated the effect of noxious tail stimulation, administered 1 day after SCI on mechanical withdrawal responses to von Frey stimuli from 1 to 28 days after treatment. In addition, because the proinflammatory cytokine tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF) is implicated in numerous injury-induced processes including pain hypersensitivity, we assessed the temporal and spatial expression of TNF, TNF receptors, and several downstream signaling targets after stimulation. Our results showed that unlike sham surgery or SCI only, nociceptive stimulation after SCI induced mechanical sensitivity by 24h. These behavioral changes were accompanied by increased expression of TNF. Cellular assessments of downstream targets of TNF revealed that nociceptive stimulation increased the expression of caspase 8 and the active subunit (12 kDa) of caspase 3, indicative of active apoptosis at a time point consistent with the onset of mechanical allodynia. In addition, immunohistochemical analysis revealed distinct morphological signs of apoptosis in neurons and microglia at 24h after stimulation. Interestingly, expression of the inflammatory mediator NFB was unaltered by nociceptive stimulation. These results suggest that noxious input caudal to the level of SCI can increase the onset and expression of behavioral responses indicative of pain, potentially involving TNF signaling.