N-methyl-D-aspartate-induced excitation and sensitization of normal and inflamed nociceptors

Neuroscience. 2003;118(2):547-62. doi: 10.1016/s0306-4522(03)00009-5.


The present study investigates the contribution of peripheral N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors to acute nociception and persistent inflammatory pain in the rat. Immunohistochemical localization of the NMDA receptor one (NMDAR1) subunit demonstrates that 47% of unmyelinated axons in the normal digital nerve are positively labeled. In concert with the overall progression of inflammation following injection of complete Freund's adjuvant (CFA) in the hind paw, a significant increase in the proportion of NMDAR1-labeled unmyelinated digital axons occurs at 2 and 7, but not 14 days following hind-paw inflammation. In behavioral studies, we confirm an increased mechanical sensitivity in CFA-injected hind paws. Furthermore, activation of NMDA receptors following intraplantar NMDA (1.0 mM) in normal animals results in a mechanical sensitivity similar to that observed in inflamed animals. Conversely, a low concentration of NMDA (0.5 mM) that has little affect on mechanical thresholds in normal animals produces a significant increase in mechanical sensitivity in the inflamed state. CFA-induced mechanical sensitivity involves NMDA-receptor activation demonstrated by the observation that injection of MK-801 alone into the inflamed hind paw returns mechanical sensitivity to normal (pre-inflammation) levels. In single-unit studies, there is a dose-dependent increase in NMDA-induced nociceptor activity in both normal and inflamed skin, but the amount of NMDA required to induce activation is reduced in inflamed skin. In addition, NMDA-induced discharge rates and percentage of NMDA-activated nociceptors are significantly increased in inflamed compared with normal skin, and this activation can be blocked by co-administration of MK-801. Exposure of nociceptors in normal skin to 1 mM NMDA sensitizes the units to reapplication of NMDA and to heat. Nociceptors that demonstrate sensitization to heat in persistent inflammation show an enhanced sensitization when exposed to exogenous NMDA. Thus, peripheral NMDA receptors not only play an important role in modulating the responses of nociceptors in normal skin, but their upregulation and activation on peripheral nociceptors contributes significantly to the mechanical sensitivity and heat sensitization that accompanies persistent inflammation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Axons / pathology
  • Axons / ultrastructure
  • Dizocilpine Maleate / pharmacology
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Electrophysiology
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Agonists / pharmacology*
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Freund's Adjuvant / poisoning
  • Hindlimb / pathology
  • Hindlimb / physiopathology
  • Hot Temperature / adverse effects
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Inflammation / chemically induced
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Male
  • N-Methylaspartate / pharmacology*
  • Nociceptors / drug effects*
  • Nociceptors / metabolism
  • Nociceptors / physiopathology
  • Pain Measurement
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sensory Thresholds
  • Skin / innervation
  • Skin / pathology
  • Skin / physiopathology
  • Skin / ultrastructure
  • Stimulation, Chemical
  • Time Factors


  • Excitatory Amino Acid Agonists
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists
  • N-Methylaspartate
  • Dizocilpine Maleate
  • Freund's Adjuvant