Differential expression patterns of cytokines in complex regional pain syndrome

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Complex regional pain syndromes (CRPS) are characterized by persistent and severe pain after trauma or surgery. Neuro-immune alterations are assumed to play a pathophysiological role. Here we set out to investigate whether patients with CRPS have altered systemic pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokine profiles compared to controls on mRNA and protein level. We studied blood cytokine mRNA and protein levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokines tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF), interleukin-2 (IL-2) and IL-8 and the anti-inflammatory cytokines IL-4, IL-10, and transforming growth factor-β1 (TGFβ1) in 40 prospectively recruited patients with CRPS I, two patients with CRPS II, and 34 controls. Quantitative real-time PCR and enzyme linked immunosorbent assay were used. Additionally, the patients underwent quantitative sensory testing and were assessed with the McGill pain questionnaire and the Hospital anxiety and depression scale. Patients with CRPS had higher blood TNF and IL-2 mRNA levels (p = 0.005; p = 0.04) and lower IL-8 mRNA levels (p < 0.001) than controls. The mRNA for the anti-inflammatory cytokines IL-4 and IL-10 was reduced in the patient group (p = 0.004; p = 0.006), whereas TGFβ1 mRNA levels did not differ between groups. These results were paralleled by serum protein levels, except for TGFβ1, which was reduced in patients with CRPS, and for IL-8, which gave similar protein values in both groups. Sensory testing showed a predominant loss of small fiber-related modalities in the patient group. The shift towards a pro-inflammatory cytokine profile in patients with CRPS suggests a potential pathogenic role in the generation of pain.

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