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Application of early transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation in a mouse model of neuropathic pain suppressed hyperalgesia and attenuated spinal microglial activation.Although transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is widely used for the treatment of neuropathic pain, its effectiveness and mechanism of action in reducing neuropathic pain remain uncertain. We investigated the effects of early TENS (starting from the day after surgery) in mice with neuropathic pain, on hyperalgesia, glial cell activation, pain transmission neuron sensitization, expression of proinflammatory cytokines, and opioid receptors in the spinal dorsal horn. Following nerve injury, TENS and behavioral tests were performed every day. Immunohistochemical, immunoblot, and flow cytometric analysis of the lumbar spinal cord were performed after 8 days. Early TENS reduced mechanical and thermal hyperalgesia and decreased the activation of microglia and astrocytes (P < 0.05). In contrast, the application of TENS at 1 week (TENS-1w) or 2 weeks (TENS-2w) after injury was ineffective in reducing hyperalgesia (mechanical and thermal) or activation of microglia and astrocytes. Early TENS decreased p-p38 within microglia (P < 0.05), the expression levels of protein kinase C (PKC-γ), and phosphorylated anti-phospho-cyclic AMP response element-binding protein (p-CREB) in the superficial spinal dorsal horn neurons (P < 0.05), mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinases, and proinflammatory cytokines, and increased the expression levels of opioid receptors (P < 0.05). The results suggested that the application of early TENS relieved hyperalgesia in our mouse model of neuropathic pain by inhibiting glial activation, MAP kinase activation, PKC-γ, and p-CREB expression, and proinflammatory cytokines expression, as well as maintenance of spinal opioid receptors. The findings indicate that TENS treatment is more effective when applied as early after nerve injury as possible.