Complete spinal cord injury (SCI) transforms how brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) affects nociceptive sensitization

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Noxious stimulation can induce a lasting increase in neural excitability within the spinal cord (central sensitization) that can promote pain and disrupt adaptive function (maladaptive plasticity). Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is known to regulate the development of plasticity and has been shown to impact the development of spinally-mediated central sensitization. The latter effect has been linked to an alteration in GABA-dependent inhibition. Prior studies have shown that, in spinally transected rats, exposure to regular (fixed spaced) stimulation can counter the development of maladaptive plasticity and have linked this effect to an up-regulation of BDNF. Here it is shown that application of the irritant capsaicin to one hind paw induces enhanced mechanical reactivity (EMR) after spinal cord injury (SCI) and that the induction of this effect is blocked by pretreatment with fixed spaced shock. This protective effect was eliminated if rats were pretreated with the BDNF sequestering antibody TrkB-IgG. Intrathecal (i.t.) application of BDNF prevented, but did not reverse, capsaicin-induced EMR. BDNF also attenuated cellular indices (ERK and pERK expression) of central sensitization after SCI. In uninjured rats, i.t. BDNF enhanced, rather than attenuated, capsaicin-induced EMR and ERK/pERK expression. These opposing effects were related to a transformation in GABA function. In uninjured rats, BDNF reduced membrane-bound KCC2 and the inhibitory effect of the GABAA agonist muscimol. After SCI, BDNF increased KCC2 expression, which would help restore GABAergic inhibition. The results suggest that SCI transforms how BDNF affects GABA function and imply that the clinical usefulness of BDNF will depend upon the extent of fiber sparing.

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