NGF-evoked sensitization of muscle fascia nociceptors in humans

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TOC summaryProlonged local hyperalgesia after nerve growth factor injection in muscle fascia suggests that sensitization of fascia nociceptors contributes to clinical muscle pain.Nerve growth factor (NGF) induces local hyperalgesia for a few days after intramuscular injection, but longer-lasting muscle pain upon systemic administration. As the muscle fascia is densely innervated by free nerve endings, we hypothesized a lasting sensitization of fascia nociceptors by NGF. We administered 1 μg NGF (dissolved in 100 μL saline) ultrasound-guided to the fascia of the Musculus erector spinae muscle at the lumbar level of 14 male volunteers and assessed hypersensitivity after 6 hours, and 1, 3, 7, 14, and 21 days. Pain upon mechanical stimuli (constant pressure and dynamic impact), upon exercise and electrically induced M. erector spinae contraction, and upon injection of 100 μL phosphate buffer pH 4 (at day 7 and 14 only) to the fascia of both NGF- and saline-treated muscles, was investigated. Injections into the muscle fascia did not cause acute pain. Local heat pain thresholds were unchanged following NGF and saline (control) administration. NGF evoked a lasting (days 1-7) and significant reduction of pressure pain, pressure thresholds, exercise-evoked muscle pain, and hyperalgesia to impact stimuli (12 m/s). Pain upon injected protons was significantly elevated (P < 0.04) for 2 weeks. NGF induced a sensitization of the muscle fascia to mechanical and chemical stimuli lasting for up to 2 weeks. As nociceptors in the fascia appear to be particularly prone to sensitization, they may contribute to acute or chronic muscle pain.

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