Intraspinal and behavioral consequences of nerve growth factor-induced nociceptive sprouting and nerve growth factor-induced hyperalgesia compared in adult rats

J Comp Neurol. 1999 Jul 19;410(1):73-89.


Intraspinal and behavioral events were studied in adult rats with nociceptive nerves that were undergoing collateral sprouting into adjacent denervated skin. This sprouting, which is driven by endogenous nerve growth factor (NGF), did not cause hyperalgesia. For comparison, we studied an exogenous NGF administration that induced hyperalgesia but was too brief to evoke sprouting. When nociceptive nerves sprouted in skin, back-labeling with wheat germ agglutinin-conjugated horseradish peroxidase revealed that their projections sprouted in the cord. The sprouted peripheral nerves now activated more c-Fos-containing interneurons, which stimulus-response studies showed was not due to an increased afferent discharge. We attribute the interneuron recruitment to synaptogenesis following the intraspinal sprouting. Nociceptive stimulation of dorsal skin reflexly activates underlying cutaneous trunci muscle (CTM). When a nociceptive field expanded by nerve sprouting, so did the area of the evoked CTM reflex: this implies a recruitment of CTM motoneurons. We interpret this "matching" of response to stimulus as an adaptive phenomenon ensured by an adaptive intraspinal sprouting of the nociceptive projections. Neither the intraspinal changes nor the reflex changes occurred if peripheral sprouting was blocked by systemic anti-NGF treatment, indicating that the role of endogenous NGF was only in that sprouting. No comparable adaptive events occurred during NGF-induced hyperalgesia. Neither nociceptive fields nor CTM reflexes were affected; however there was a recruitment of c-Fos-expressing interneurons. This recruitment was not explained by peripheral sensitization, and, because sprouting was not involved here, we attribute the recruitment to "synaptic unmasking," i.e., an increased effectiveness of the preexisting excitatory circuitry.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Hyperalgesia / chemically induced*
  • Hyperalgesia / physiopathology
  • Muscles / physiopathology
  • Nerve Growth Factors / pharmacology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / drug effects*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Nociceptors / drug effects*
  • Nociceptors / physiology
  • Peripheral Nerves / metabolism
  • Peripheral Nerves / pathology
  • Peripheral Nerves / physiopathology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Reflex / physiology
  • Skin / innervation
  • Spinal Cord / drug effects*
  • Spinal Cord / physiology


  • Nerve Growth Factors
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos