Background & aims: Maternal deprivation (MD) increases nerve growth factor (NGF) expression and colonic mast cell density and alters visceral sensitivity. This study aimed to establish whether NGF overexpression induced by neonatal stress is involved in altered visceral sensitivity and gut mucosal integrity in adult rats.
Methods: Male Wistar rat pups were either submitted to MD and treated with anti-NGF antibodies or left with their dam and treated daily with NGF. All rats were tested 10 weeks later for visceral sensitivity and 12 weeks later for gut permeability, myeloperoxidase activity, and mast cell numbers. Colonic NGF and NGF receptor expression were determined at 14 days and 12 weeks of age. To determine the involvement of colonic NGF overexpression and mast cell hyperplasia in visceral hyperalgesia induced by MD, neonatally deprived adult rats received anti-NGF antibodies or doxantrazole.
Results: MD increased visceral sensitivity to rectal distention, gut permeability, colonic myeloperoxidase activity, and mast cell density, and anti-NGF antibodies abolished these effects. Neonatal daily treatment with NGF mimicked the alterations induced by MD on both rectal sensitivity and mucosal barrier. In deprived compared with nondeprived rats, colonic NGF immunostaining and NGF messenger RNA were increased at 14 days and 12 weeks. Overexpression of NGF receptor messenger RNA, present at 14 days, was not observed later. Moreover, adult deprived rats treated with doxantrazole or anti-NGF antibodies exhibited normal gut permeability and visceral sensitivity to rectal distention.
Conclusions: These data indicate that NGF triggers and maintains long-term alterations of visceral sensitivity and gut mucosal integrity induced by MD.