Study design: This study tested the hypothesis that the 17-kDa form of tumor necrosis factor-alpha is the pathophysiologic agent expressed by herniated nucleus pulposus in vivo that is primarily responsible for the histologic and behavioral manifestations of experimental sciatica associated with herniated lumbar discs.
Objective: The authors determined the molecular weight and concentration of active tumor necrosis factor-alpha in rat herniated disc and used exogenous tumor necrosis factor-alpha at the same molecular weight to study its neuropathologic effect on rat nerve root and dorsal root ganglion preparations in vivo.
Summary of background data: Expressed by herniated nucleus pulposus in culture, tumor necrosis factor-alpha causes neuropathologic injury in nerve roots and neuropathic pain states in which mechanical allodynia is seen in response to peripheral stimuli.
Methods: Western blotting was used to identify the molecular weight of the operative tumor necrosis factor-alpha protein form, and measures of optical density were used for semiquantitative determination of concentration. Plastic-embedded nerve roots and dorsal root ganglion were used for neuropathologic evaluation, and von Frey stimulation was used to quantify mechanical allodynia.
Results: The 17-kDa form of tumor necrosis factor-alpha is expressed by herniated nucleus pulposus at a concentration of approximately 0.48 ng per herniated rat lumbar disc. Exogenous tumor necrosis factor-alpha applied in vivo to rat nerve roots produced neuropathologic changes and behavior deficits that mimicked experimental studies with herniated nucleus pulposus applied to nerve roots.
Conclusions: The data reinforce other evidence that tumor necrosis factor-alpha is involved in mechanisms of neuropathic pain.