The onset of treatment with the antidepressant desipramine is critical for the emotional consequences of neuropathic pain


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Abstract

Neuropathic pain is a chronic condition that is challenging to treat. It often produces considerable physical disability and emotional distress. Patients with neuropathic pain often experience depression and anxiety both of which are known to be temporally correlated with noradrenergic dysfunction in the locus coeruleus (LC) as pain becomes chronic. Antidepressants are the first-line drug therapy for neuropathic pain, and the LC represents a potential target for such therapy. In this study, we evaluated the efficacy of the tricyclic antidepressant desipramine (DMI, a noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor) in preventing or relieving the noradrenergic impairment induced by neuropathic pain. The treatment started before or after the onset of the anxiodepressive phenotype (“early or late treatment”) in adult rats subjected to chronic sciatic constriction. Electrophysiological and western blotting assays showed LC dysfunction (increased bursting activity, alpha2-adrenoceptor sensitivity, tyrosine hydroxylase, and noradrenaline transporter expression) in chronic constriction injury at long term. These noradrenergic changes were concomitant to the progression of anxiety and despair-like features. Desipramine induced efficient analgesia, and it counteracted the despair-like behavior in chronic constriction injury-DMI animals, reducing the burst rate and tyrosine hydroxylase expression. Surprisingly, “early” DMI treatment did not modify pain-induced anxiety, and it dampened pain aversion, although these phenomena were abolished when the treatment commenced after noradrenaline impairment had been established. Hence, DMI seems to produce different outcomes depending when the treatment commences, indicating that the balance between the benefits and adverse effects of DMI therapy may shift as neuropathy progresses.

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