Background: In chronic pain, increased activity from intact or damaged peripheral nerve endings results in an enhanced response in central pain transmission systems, a mechanism known as central sensitization. Central sensitization can also be invoked in human experimental models. Therefore, these models may be useful to characterize novel analgesics in humans. The anticonvulsant gabapentin has demonstrated efficacy in patients with neuropathic pain, but its mode of action remains unclear. This study examined the effects of gabapentin on signs of central sensitization (brush and pinprick hyperalgesia) in a human model of capsaicin-evoked pain, using a gabapentin dosing regimen similar to that used in the clinic. The aims were to determine whether gabapentin, dosed in a manner similar to that used in the clinic, affected the various components of central sensitization and to assess the utility of this model for characterizing novel analgesics.
Methods: Intradermal capsaicin (100 microg/20 microl) was administered in the volar forearm of 41 male human volunteers to induce pain and clinical signs of central sensitization. Gabapentin (titrated to 2,400 mg daily) or placebo was given orally for 15 days in a randomized, double-blind, parallel-group design. The capsaicin test was conducted at baseline and after gabapentin or placebo. Endpoints were the size of areas of brush-evoked allodynia (with cotton gauze) and pinprick hyperalgesia (with von Frey filament), and the intensity of ongoing brush- and pinprick-evoked pain.
Results: Gabapentin significantly reduced the area of brush allodynia compared with placebo (P </= 0.05) and insignificantly attenuated the area of pinprick hyperalgesia. Gabapentin had no significant effect on spontaneous and evoked pain intensity.
Conclusion: Oral gabapentin, administered to healthy volunteers in a regimen similar to that used in treating chronic neuropathic pain, reduces measures of central sensitization evoked by intradermal capsaicin. This suggests that the pain-relieving effect in chronic neuropathic pain condition is linked to the effect of gabapentin on central sensitization. The ability of the capsaicin model to detect the efficacy of this standard treatment of neuropathic pain suggests that it may have a predictive value for detection of efficacy in human subjects.