Interferon-gamma induced disruption of GABAergic inhibition in the spinal dorsal horn in vivo

Pain. 2007 Dec 15;133(1-3):18-28. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2007.02.010. Epub 2007 Apr 2.


The proinflammatory cytokine interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), which can be present in elevated levels in the central nervous system during pathological conditions, may be involved in the generation of persistent pain states by inducing neuronal hyperexcitability. The aim of the present study was to examine whether loss of dorsal horn GABAergic inhibition may underlie this IFN-gamma-mediated neuronal hyperexcitability. Repetitive intrathecal injections of recombinant rat IFN-gamma (1000 U) or control buffer were administered to rats every second day for eight days. Electrophysiological recordings from lumbar dorsal horn neurons (n=46) were performed under halothane anaesthesia. Cellular responses were recorded before, during and after microiontophoretic application of the GABA antagonist bicuculline. In control animals, all cellular responses studied were significantly enhanced in the presence of bicuculline, including increased spontaneous activity, enhanced responses to innocuous and noxious mechanical stimulation and reduced paired-pulse depression. In contrast, in IFN-gamma-treated animals, bicuculline ejection had little or no facilitating effect on neuronal responses and instead a significant proportion of neurons displayed reduced responses. Seventy-four percent of cells from IFN-gamma treated animals showed a reduction in the response to noxious stimulation and 47% of the cells showed increased rather than reduced paired-pulse depression in the presence of bicuculline, thus suggesting IFN-gamma-induced excitatory actions by GABA. These findings show that the prolonged presence of increased levels of IFN-gamma in the central nervous system may contribute to the generation of central sensitization and persistent pain by reducing inhibitory tone in the dorsal horn. This implies a potential link between disinhibition and cytokine action in the spinal cord.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / drug effects
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Bicuculline / pharmacology
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Drug Interactions
  • GABA Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Injections, Spinal / methods
  • Interferon-gamma / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Neural Inhibition / drug effects*
  • Pain Threshold / drug effects
  • Physical Stimulation / methods
  • Posterior Horn Cells / drug effects*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Skin / innervation
  • Spinal Cord / cytology*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism*


  • GABA Antagonists
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Bicuculline