Chronic stress exacerbates neuropathic pain via the integration of stress-affect–related information with nociceptive information in the central nucleus of the amygdala

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Abstract

Exacerbation of pain by chronic stress and comorbidity of pain with stress-related psychiatric disorders, including anxiety and depression, represent significant clinical challenges. However, the underlying mechanisms still remain unclear. Here, we investigated whether chronic forced swim stress (CFSS)–induced exacerbation of neuropathic pain is mediated by the integration of stress-affect–related information with nociceptive information in the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA). We first demonstrated that CFSS indeed produces both depressive-like behaviors and exacerbation of spared nerve injury (SNI)-induced mechanical allodynia in rats. Moreover, we revealed that CFSS induces both sensitization of basolateral amygdala (BLA) neurons and augmentation of long-term potentiation (LTP) at the BLA-CeA synapse and meanwhile, exaggerates both SNI-induced sensitization of CeA neurons and LTP at the parabrachial (PB)-CeA synapse. In addition, we discovered that CFSS elevates SNI-induced functional up-regulation of GluN2B-containing NMDA (GluN2B-NMDA) receptors in the CeA, which is proved to be necessary for CFSS-induced augmentation of LTP at the PB-CeA synapse and exacerbation of pain hypersensitivity in SNI rats. Suppression of CFSS-elicited depressive-like behaviors by antidepressants imipramine or ifenprodil inhibits the CFSS-induced exacerbation of neuropathic pain. Collectively, our findings suggest that CFSS potentiates synaptic efficiency of the BLA-CeA pathway, leading to the activation of GluN2B-NMDA receptors and sensitization of CeA neurons, which subsequently facilitate pain-related synaptic plasticity of the PB-CeA pathway, thereby exacerbating SNI-induced neuropathic pain. We conclude that chronic stress exacerbates neuropathic pain via the integration of stress-affect–related information with nociceptive information in the CeA.

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