Effect of electroacupuncture on thermal pain threshold and expression of calcitonin-gene related peptide, substance P and γ-aminobutyric acid in the cervical dorsal root ganglion of rats with incisional neck pain

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Acupuncture therapy effectively reduces post-surgical pain, but its mechanism of action remains unclear. The aim of this study was to investigate whether expression of γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and the neuropeptides substance P (SP) and calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) in the primary sensory neurons of cervical dorsal root ganglia (DRG) are involved in electroacupuncture (EA)-induced analgesia in a rat model of incisional neck pain.


The pain model was established by making a longitudinal midline neck incision in 60 rats. Another 15 rats underwent sham surgery (normal group). Post-incision, 15 rats remained untreated (model group) and 45 rats underwent EA (frequency 2/100 Hz, intensity 1 mA) at bilateral LI18, LI4-PC6 or ST36-GB34 (n=15 each) for 30 min at 4 hours, 24 hours, and 48 hours post-surgery, followed by thermal pain threshold (PT) measurement. 30 min later, the rats were euthanased and cervical (C3-6) DRGs removed for measurement of immunoreactivity and mRNA expression of SP/CGRP and the GABAergic neuronal marker glutamic acid decarboxylase 67 (GAD67).


Thermal PT was significantly lower in the model group versus the normal group and increased in the LI18 and LI4-PC6 groups but not the ST36-GB34 group compared with the model group. Additionally, EA at LI18 and LI4-PC6 markedly suppressed neck incision-induced upregulation of mRNA/protein expression of SP/CGRP, and upregulated mRNA/protein expression of GAD67 in the DRGs of C3-6 segments.


EA at LI18/LI4-PC6 increases PT in rats with incisional neck pain, which is likely related to downregulation of pronociceptive mediators SP/CGRP and upregulation of the inhibitory transmitter GABA in the primary sensory neurons of cervical DRGs.

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