Varicella zoster virus induces neuropathic changes in rat dorsal root ganglia and behavioral reflex sensitisation that is attenuated by gabapentin or sodium channel blocking drugs

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Reactivation of latent varicella zoster virus (VZV) within sensory trigeminal and dorsal root ganglia (DRG) neurons produces shingles (zoster), often accompanied by a chronic neuropathic pain state, post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). PHN persists despite latency of the virus within human sensory ganglia and is often unresponsive to current analgesic or antiviral agents. To study the basis of varicella zoster-induced pain, we have utilised a recently developed model of chronic VZV infection in rodents. Immunohistochemical analysis of DRG following VZV infection showed the presence of a viral immediate early gene protein (IE62) co-expressed with markers of A- (neurofilament-200; NF-200) and C- (peripherin) afferent sensory neurons. There was increased expression of neuropeptide Y (NPY) in neurons co-expressing NF-200. In addition, there was an increased expression of α2δ1 calcium channel, Nav1.3 and Nav1.8 sodium channels, the neuropeptide galanin and the nerve injury marker, Activating Transcription Factor-3 (ATF-3) as determined by Western blotting in DRG of VZV-infected rats. VZV infection induced increased behavioral reflex responsiveness to both noxious thermal and mechanical stimuli ipsilateral to injection (lasting up to 10 weeks post-infection) that is mediated by spinal NMDA receptors. These changes were reversed by systemic administration of gabapentin or the sodium channel blockers, mexiletine and lamotrigine, but not by the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent, diclofenac. This is the first time that the profile of VZV infection-induced phenotypic changes in DRG has been shown in rodents and reveals that this profile appears to be broadly similar (but not identical) to changes in other neuropathic pain models.

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