Gait abnormalities differentially indicate pain or structural joint damage in monoarticular antigen-induced arthritis

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Gait abnormalities have been suggested to provide an objective measure for joint pain in animal models. Here, we aimed to assess whether parameters of gait analysis correlate with measures of pain-related behavior in experimental monoarthritis. For this purpose, antigen-induced arthritis was induced in the left knee joints of 68 female Lewis rats, of which 30 were treated with tumor necrosis factor-alpha(TNF)-neutralizing compounds. During the course of arthritis, paw print analysis parameters and measures for mechanical and thermal hyperalgesia were obtained. Knee joints harvested on either day 3 or day 21 were scored histologically for signs of inflammation and cartilage and bone destructions. Data were compared to those obtained from 33 immunized control rats and correlated for days 3 and 21. Arthritic rats showed distinct asymmetric gait abnormalities. In the acute stage of antigen-induced arthritis, but not in the chronic phase, there was a significant correlation between the gait parameter ‘left–right distance’ and measures of primary and secondary hyperalgesia. Both in the acute and chronic phases, however, the gait parameter ‘angle between paws’ indicating outward rotation of paws mainly correlated with joint destruction as assessed using histology. Etanercept treatment exhibited pronounced anti-nociceptive and pro-locomotional effects, but the described correlations remained. In conclusion, some parameters of gait analysis may represent a good measure for arthritis pain, mainly in acute inflammation, while others are increasingly influenced by mechanical joint deformation as indicated by cartilage and bone destructions. Thus, gait abnormalities may not unequivocally be suitable for objective pain assessment in all stages of experimental arthritis.

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