The antiallodynic effect of NMDA antagonists in neuropathic pain outlasts the duration of the in vivo NMDA antagonism

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Clinical reports have described a long-lasting relief in neuropathic pain patients treated with NMDA receptor antagonists; it is unclear, however, what mediates this effect. In this work, we have used two NMDA antagonists of different class to investigate if the antiallodynic effects in a rat neuropathy model can outlast their in vivo NMDA antagonism. Both the uncompetitive NMDA antagonist ketamine and the glycineB antagonist MRZ 2/576 inhibited neuronal responses to iontophoretic NMDA in anaesthetised rats with the time course consistent with their known pharmacokinetics (t1/2 ∼10–12 min, similar in control and nerve-injured rats). Surprisingly, the antiallodynic effects of the same doses of the NMDA antagonists in the neuropathic pain model were long-lasting (>3 h with ketamine, >24 h with MRZ 2/576). The effect of ketamine was further prolonged (>24 h) when combined with a short-acting opioid, fentanyl, which only produced a short effect (∼40 min) when given alone. The duration of centrally mediated side effects of ketamine and MRZ 2/576 was short, similar to the in vivo NMDA antagonism. We speculate that NMDA receptor blockade may down-regulate the central sensitisation triggered by nerve injury, resulting in a long-lasting antiallodynic effect. Development of short-acting NMDA antagonists could represent a strategy for improving their tolerability.

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