Transient loss of terminals from non-peptidergic nociceptive fibers in the substantia gelatinosa of spinal cord following chronic constriction injury of the sciatic nerve

Neuroscience. 2006;138(2):675-90. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2005.11.051. Epub 2006 Jan 19.


It is well known that following peripheral nerve injury, there are numerous changes in neurotransmitter and neuropeptide expression in the superficial dorsal horn, the dorsal root ganglion and the periphery. Of particular interest are the relative contributions of two sub-types of unmyelinated C-fibers in the initiation and maintenance of chronic pain, the peptidergic, and the non-peptidergic. Evidence gathered in recent years has led researchers to believe that the non-peptidergic nociceptive primary afferents are functionally distinct from their peptidergic counterpart. For our study, we used a well-established animal model of constriction neuropathy (the Kruger model) and studied Wistar rats at 5, 7, 10, 15 and 21 days after nerve lesion caused by the application of a fixed-diameter polyethylene cuff to the left sciatic nerve. Animals were assessed for the onset and evolution of mechanical allodynia using calibrated von Frey filaments and were additionally tested for thermal (heat and cold) hypersensitivity. Immunocytochemical detection of calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) and isolectin B4 (IB4) binding was used to visualize the dorsal horn distribution of the boutons from the peptidergic and non-peptidergic fibers respectively. Using confocal microscopy and image analysis, we detected a significant decrease in the density of IB4-labeled boutons, ipsilateral to the lesion, at seven and 10 days following nerve injury. The density of IB4-labeled varicosities retuned to control levels by 15 days. There were no significant changes in the density of CGRP-labeled varicosities at all time points examined. Applying electron microscopy, we initially detected degenerative changes in the central elements of type I glomeruli and then a considerable reduction in their number followed by recovery at 15 days post-lesion. As the central boutons of type Ia represent varicosities from the fibers which bind IB4, the ultrastructural changes confirmed that there was a bona fide transient loss of varicosities, not simply a loss of IB4 binding. These data indicate that, in this animal model, morphological changes in the nociceptive C-fiber input of the rat dorsal horn are restricted to the non-peptidergic sub-population and are transient in nature. Furthermore, such changes do not correlate with the time-course of the allodynia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / pathology
  • Axons / physiology
  • Constriction, Pathologic*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Hyperalgesia / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Nerve Endings / physiology*
  • Nerve Endings / ultrastructure
  • Nerve Fibers / physiology*
  • Nerve Fibers / ultrastructure
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Sciatic Nerve / physiopathology*
  • Substantia Gelatinosa / pathology
  • Substantia Gelatinosa / physiology*
  • Substantia Gelatinosa / ultrastructure