Brain derived nerve growth factor induces spinal noradrenergic fiber sprouting and enhances clonidine analgesia following nerve injury in rats

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Many treatments for neuropathic pain activate or augment norepinephrine release in the spinal cord, yet these treatments are less effective against acute nociceptive stimuli. We previously showed in mice that peripheral nerve injury results in sprouting of spinal noradrenergic fibers, possibly reflecting the substrate for this shift in drug efficacy. Here, we tested whether such sprouting also occurs in rats after nerve injury and examined one signal for such sprouting. Ligation of L5 and L6 spinal nerves unilaterally in rats resulted in hypersensitivity to tactile stimulation of the ipsilateral paw, and sprouting of noradrenergic fibers in the dorsal horn of the lumbar spinal cord. Brain derived nerve growth factor (BDNF) content increased in L4–L6 dorsal root ganglia ipsilateral to injury and in lumbar spinal cord following nerve injury, and intrathecal infusion of BDNF antiserum prevented spinal noradrenergic sprouting. This treatment also prevented the increased analgesic efficacy of intrathecal clonidine observed after nerve injury. Intraspinal injection of BDNF in non-injured rats mimicked the sprouting of spinal noradrenergic fibers seen after nerve injury. These results suggest that increased BDNF synthesis and release drives spinal noradrenergic sprouting following nerve injury, and that this sprouting may paradoxically increase the capacity for analgesia in the setting of neuropathic pain from drugs which utilize or mimic the noradrenergic pathway.

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