Tumor necrosis factor-α induces sensitization of meningeal nociceptors mediated via local COX and p38 MAP kinase actions

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The proinflammatory cytokine TNF-α has been shown to promote activation and sensitization of primary afferent nociceptors. The downstream signaling processes that play a role in promoting this neuronal response remain however controversial. Increased TNF-α plasma levels during migraine attacks suggest that local interaction between this cytokine and intracranial meningeal nociceptors plays a role in promoting the headache. Here, using in vivo single unit recording in the trigeminal ganglia of anesthetized rats, we show that meningeal TNF-α action promotes a delayed mechanical sensitization of meningeal nociceptors. Using immunohistochemistry, we provide evidence for non-neuronal localization of the TNF receptors TNFR1 to dural endothelial vascular cells and TNFR2 to dural resident macrophages as well as to some CGRP-expressing dural nerve fibers. We also demonstrate that meningeal vascular TNFR1 is co-localized with COX-1 while the perivascular TNFR2 is co-expressed with COX-2. We further report here for the first time that TNF-α evoked sensitization of meningeal nociceptors is dependent upon local action of cyclooxygenase (COX). Finally, we show that local application of TNF-α to the meninges evokes activation of the p38 MAP kinase in dural blood vessels that also express TNFR1 and that pharmacological blockade of p38 activation inhibits TNF-α evoked sensitization of meningeal nociceptors. Our study suggests that meningeal action of TNF-α could play an important role in the genesis of intracranial throbbing headaches such as migraine through a mechanism that involves at least part activation of non-neuronal TNFR1 and TNFR2 and downstream activation of meningeal non-neuronal COX and the p38 MAP kinase.

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