A peripheral nerve injury often causes neuropathic pain but the underlying mechanisms remain obscure. Several established animal models of peripheral neuropathic pain have greatly advanced our understanding of the diverse mechanisms of neuropathic pain. A common feature of these models is primary sensory neuron injury and the commingle of intact axons with degenerating axons in the sciatic nerve. Here we investigated whether neuropathic pain could be induced without sensory neuron injury following exposure of their peripheral axons to the milieu of Wallerian degeneration. We developed a unilateral lumbar 5 ventral root transection (L5 VRT) model in adult rats, in which L5 ventral root fibers entering the sciatic nerve were sectioned in the spinal canal. This model differs from previous ones in that DRG neurons and their afferents are kept uninjured and intact afferents expose to products of degenerating efferent ventral root fibers in the sciatic nerve and the denervated muscles. We found that the L5 VRT produced rapid (24 h after transection), robust and prolonged (56 days) bilateral mechanical allodynia, to a similar extent to that in rats with L5 spinal nerve transection (L5 SNT), cold allodynia and short-term thermal hyperalgesia (14 days). Furthermore, L5 VRT led to significant inflammation as demonstrated by infiltration of ED-1-positive monocytes/macrophages in the DRG, sciatic nerve and muscle fibers. These findings demonstrated that L5 VRT produced behavioral signs of neuropathic pain with high mechanical sensitivity and thermal responsiveness, and suggested that neuropathic pain can be induced without damage to sensory neurons. We propose that neuropathic pain in this model may be mediated by primed intact sensory neurons, which run through the milieu of Wallerian degeneration and inflammation after nerve injury. The L5 VRT model manifests the complex regional pain syndrome in some human patients, and it may provide an additional dimension to dissect out the mechanisms underlying neuropathic pain.
Copyright 2002 Elsevier Science (USA).