Further characterization of a rat model of varicella zoster virus-associated pain: Relationship between mechanical hypersensitivity and anxiety-related behavior, and the influence of analgesic drugs

Neuroscience. 2007 Feb 23;144(4):1495-508. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2006.11.029. Epub 2006 Dec 29.


Persistent herpes zoster-associated pain is a significant clinical problem and an area of largely unmet therapeutic need. Progress in elucidating the underlying pathophysiology of zoster-associated pain and related co-morbidity behavior, in addition to appropriately targeted drug development has been hindered by the lack of an appropriate animal model. This study further characterizes a recently developed rat model of zoster-associated hypersensitivity and investigates (a) response to different viral strains; (b) relationship between viral inoculum concentration ('dose') and mechanical hypersensitivity ('response'); (c) attenuation of virus-associated mechanical hypersensitivity by clinically useful analgesic drugs; and (d) measurement of pain co-morbidity (anxiety-like behavior) and pharmacological intervention in the open field paradigm (in parallel with models of traumatic peripheral nerve injury). Varicella zoster virus was propagated on fibroblast cells before s.c. injection into the glabrous footpad of the left hind limb of adult male Wistar rats. Control animals received injection of uninfected fibroblast cells. Hind-limb reflex withdrawal thresholds to mechanical, noxious thermal and cooling stimuli were recorded at specified intervals post-infection. Infection with all viral strains was associated with a dose-dependent mechanical hypersensitivity but not a thermal or cool hypersensitivity. Systemic treatment with i.p. morphine (2.5 mg/kg), amitriptyline (10 mg/kg), gabapentin (30 mg/kg), (S)-(+)-ibuprofen (20 mg/kg) and the cannabinoid WIN55,212-2 (2 mg/kg) but not the antiviral, acyclovir (50 mg/kg), was associated with a reversal of mechanical paw withdrawal thresholds. In the open field paradigm, virus-infected and nerve-injured animals demonstrated an anxiety-like pattern of ambulation (reduced entry into the central area of the open arena) which was positively correlated with mechanical hypersensitivity. This may reflect pain-related co-morbidity. Further, anxiety-like behavior was attenuated by acute i.p. administration of gabapentin (30 mg/kg) in nerve-injured, but not virus-infected animals. This model will prove useful in elucidating the pathophysiology of zoster-associated pain and provide a tool for pre-clinical screening of analgesic drugs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amines / pharmacology
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use*
  • Animals
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / pharmacology
  • Anxiety Disorders / complications*
  • Anxiety Disorders / drug therapy
  • Anxiety Disorders / physiopathology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cyclohexanecarboxylic Acids / pharmacology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Fibroblasts
  • Gabapentin
  • Herpesvirus 3, Human / pathogenicity*
  • Herpesvirus 3, Human / physiology
  • Hyperalgesia / etiology
  • Hyperalgesia / physiopathology*
  • Hyperalgesia / psychology
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Neuralgia, Postherpetic / drug therapy
  • Neuralgia, Postherpetic / physiopathology*
  • Neuralgia, Postherpetic / psychology
  • Nociceptors / drug effects
  • Nociceptors / physiopathology
  • Nociceptors / virology
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain Threshold / drug effects
  • Pain Threshold / physiology
  • Peripheral Nerves / drug effects
  • Peripheral Nerves / physiopathology*
  • Peripheral Nerves / virology
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Viral Load
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / pharmacology


  • Amines
  • Analgesics
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents
  • Cyclohexanecarboxylic Acids
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Gabapentin