Effects of General Anesthetics on Substance P Release and c-Fos Expression in the Spinal Dorsal Horn

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The authors examined in vivo the effects of general anesthetics on evoked substance P release (primary afferent excitability) and c-Fos expression (neuronal activation) in superficial dorsal horn.


Rats received saline, propofol (100 mg/kg), pentobarbital (50 mg/kg), isoflurane (2 minimum alveolar concentration), nitrous oxide (66%), or fentanyl (30 μg/kg). During anesthesia, rats received intraplantar 5% formalin (50 μl) to left hind paw. Ten minutes later, rats underwent transcardial perfusion with 4% paraformaldehyde. Substance P release from small primary afferents was assessed by incidence of neurokinin 1 receptor internalization in the superficial dorsal horn. In separate studies, rats were sacrificed after 2 h and c-Fos expression measured.


Intraplantar formalin-induced robust neurokinin 1 receptor internalization in ipsilateral dorsal horn (ipsilateral: 54 ± 6% [mean ± SEM], contralateral: 12 ± 2%; P < 0.05; n = 4). Fentanyl, but not propofol, pentobarbital, isoflurane, nor nitrous oxide alone inhibited neurokinin 1 receptor internalization. However, 2 minimum alveolar concentration isoflurane + nitrous oxide reduced neurokinin 1 receptor internalization (27 ± 3%; P < 0.05; n = 5). All agents reduced c-Fos expression (control: 34 ± 4, fentanyl: 8 ± 2, isoflurane: 12 ± 3, nitrous oxide: 11 ± 2, isoflurane + nitrous oxide: 12 ± 1, pentobarbital: 11 ± 2, propofol: 13 ± 3; P < 0.05; n = 3).


General anesthetics at anesthetic concentrations block spinal neuron activation through a mechanism that is independent of an effect on small primary afferent peptide release. The effect of fentanyl alone and the synergistic effect of isoflurane and nitrous oxide on substance P release suggest a correlative rationale for the therapeutic use of these anesthetic protocols by blocking nociceptive afferent transmitter release and preventing the initiation of cascade, which is immediately postsynaptic to the primary afferent.

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