Effects of sympathectomy in a model of causalgiform pain produced by partial sciatic nerve injury in rats

Pain. 1991 Jun;45(3):309-320. doi: 10.1016/0304-3959(91)90056-4.


In a previous report we presented a novel behavioral model of neuropathic pain disorders, produced in rat by a unilateral ligation of about half of the sciatic nerve. The model is characterized by rapid onset of behaviors suggesting spontaneous pain and disordered responses to non-noxious and noxious stimuli. These include reduced withdrawal thresholds to repetitive touch in the partially deafferented skin ('touched-evoked hyperesthesia'), touch-evoked allodynia, reduced withdrawal thresholds to noxious thermal stimuli and exaggerated responses to noxious heat and mechanical stimuli ('thermal hyperalgesia'). Some of these disorders are seen at mirror image sites on the hind limb opposite the lesion. These disorder start within hours after partial nerve injury, last many months and are very similar to causalgia in humans following partial nerve injury. Since sympathetic efferent activity is known to aggravate causalgia in humans and sympathectomy is known to relieve it, we studied the effect of changing sympathetic outflow in the rat model. Reversible sympathectomy was carried out using guanethidine injected intraperitoneally in 3 experiments, each at a different time in relation to the partial nerve injury. We found that: (1) sympathectomy performed several months postoperatively alleviated the sensory disorders bilaterally; (2) sympathectomy prior to nerve injury partially prevented the appearance of thermal hyperalgesia but did not affect hyperesthesia to repetitive touch; and (3) sympathectomy at the time of nerve injury aggravated the sensory disorders during the first few days. As maintenance and production of the sensory disorders in this animal model depended on sympathetic nervous outflow, we conclude that the rats were suffering from a syndrome analogous to sympathetically maintained causalgia in man.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Causalgia / etiology
  • Causalgia / physiopathology*
  • Hot Temperature
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Sciatic Nerve / injuries*
  • Sciatic Nerve / surgery
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology
  • Sympathectomy*
  • Touch