Attenuation of mechanical pain hypersensitivity by treatment with Peptide5, a connexin-43 mimetic peptide, involves inhibition of NLRP3 inflammasome in nerve-injured mice
Connexin43 (Cx43) hemichannels in spinal cord astrocytes are implicated in the maintenance of neuropathic pain following peripheral nerve injury. Peptide5 is a Cx43 mimetic peptide that blocks hemichannels. In this study, we investigated the effects of spinal delivery of Peptide5 on mechanical pain hypersensitivity in two mouse models of neuropathic pain, peripheral nerve injury and chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). We demonstrated that 10 days following a chronic constriction injury (CCI) of the sciatic nerve, Cx43 expression, co-localised predominantly with astrocytes, was increased in the ipsilateral L3–L5 lumbar spinal cord. An intrathecal injection of Peptide5 into nerve-injured mice, on day 10 when pain was well-established, caused significant improvement in mechanical pain hypersensitivity 8 h after injection. Peptide5 treatment resulted in significantly reduced Cx43, and microglial and astrocyte activity in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord, as compared to control saline-treated CCI mice. Further in vitro investigations on primary astrocyte cultures showed that 1 h pre-treatment with Peptide5 significantly reduced adenosine triphosphate (ATP) release in response to extracellular calcium depletion. Since ATP is a known activator of the NOD-like receptor protein 3 (NLRP3) inflammasome complex, a key mediator of neuroinflammation, we examined the effects of Peptide5 treatment on NLRP3 inflammasome expression. We found that NLRP3, its adaptor apoptosis-associated spec-like protein (ASC) and caspase-1 protein were increased in the ipsilateral spinal cord of CCI mice and reduced to naïve levels following Peptide5 treatment. In the models of oxaliplatin- and paclitaxel-induced peripheral neuropathy, treatment with Peptide5 had no effect on mechanical pain hypersensitivity. Interestingly, in these CIPN models, although spinal Cx43 expression was significantly increased at day 13 following chemotherapy, NLRP3 expression was not altered. These results suggest that the analgesic effect of Peptide5 is specifically achieved by reducing NLRP3 expression. Together, our findings demonstrate that blocking Cx43 hemichannels with Peptide5 after nerve injury attenuates mechanical pain hypersensitivity by specifically targeting the NLRP3 inflammasome in the spinal cord.