Formalin-induced behavioural hypersensitivity and neuronal hyperexcitability are mediated by rapid protein synthesis at the spinal level

Mol Pain. 2009 Jun 7:5:27. doi: 10.1186/1744-8069-5-27.


Background: The mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) is a key regulator of mRNA translation whose action can be inhibited by the drug rapamycin. Forms of long-term plasticity require protein synthesis and evidence indicates that mRNA in dendrites, axon terminals and cell bodies is essential for long-term synaptic plasticity. Specific to pain, shifts in pain thresholds and responsiveness are an expression of neuronal plasticity and this likely contributes to persistent pain. We investigated this by inhibiting the activity of mTOR with rapamycin at the spinal level, of rats that were subjected to the formalin test, using both behavioural and electrophysiological techniques.

Results: For in vivo electrophysiology, Sprague Dawley rats were fully anaesthetised and single-unit extracellular recordings were obtained from lamina V wide dynamic range (WDR) dorsal horn spinal neurones at the region where input is received from the hind paw. Neuronal responses from naive rats showed that rapamycin-sensitive pathways were important in nociceptive-specific C-fibre mediated transmission onto WDR neurones as well mechanically-evoked responses since rapamycin was effective in attenuating these measures. Formalin solution was injected into the hind paw prior to which, rapamycin or vehicle was applied directly onto the exposed spinal cord. When rapamycin was applied to the spinal cord prior to hind paw formalin injection, there was a significant attenuation of the prolonged second phase of the formalin test, which comprises continuing afferent input to the spinal cord, neuronal hyperexcitability and an activated descending facilitatory drive from the brainstem acting on spinal neurones. In accordance with electrophysiological data, behavioural studies showed that rapamycin attenuated behavioural hypersensitivity elicited by formalin injection into the hind paw.

Conclusion: We conclude that mTOR has a role in maintaining persistent pain states via mRNA translation and thus protein synthesis. We hypothesise that mTOR may be activated by excitatory neurotransmitter release acting on sensory afferent terminals as well as dorsal horn spinal neurones, which may be further amplified by descending facilitatory systems originating from higher centres in the brain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Electrophysiology
  • Formaldehyde / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Pain / metabolism*
  • Protein Biosynthesis*
  • Protein Kinases / genetics
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Protein Kinases / physiology*
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sirolimus / pharmacology
  • Spinal Cord / drug effects
  • Spinal Cord / metabolism*
  • Synaptic Transmission
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases


  • RNA, Messenger
  • Formaldehyde
  • Protein Kinases
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Sirolimus