Many chronic pain conditions including complex regional pain syndrome are exacerbated by sympathetic activity. In animal models, sympathetic fibers sprout into the dorsal root ganglia (DRG) after peripheral nerve injury, forming abnormal connections with sensory neurons. However, functional studies of sympathetic-sensory connections have been limited largely to in vivo studies. This study describes a new method for studying sympathetic-sensory connections in an isolated whole DRG preparation in the rat spinal nerve ligation (SNL) model. Three days after ligation of the ventral ramus of the spinal nerve (SNL), sympathetic fibers sprouting into the DRG were observed to originate largely in the intact dorsal ramus of the spinal nerve, which at the lumbar level is a small branch of the spinal nerve separating from the ventral ramus near the intervertebral foramen. In whole DRG isolated 3 days after SNL, microelectrode recordings of sensory neurons showed that repeated stimulation of the dorsal ramus enhanced spontaneous activity in large and medium diameter neurons and reduced rheobase in large neurons. These effects, which were slow and long lasting, were attributed to stimulation of the sympathetic sprouts because: stimulation had no effect in uninjured DRG; and effects could be reduced or eliminated by a "cocktail" of antagonists of norepinephrine and ATP receptors, by pretreatment with the sympathetic release blocker bretylium, or by pre-cutting the grey ramus through which sympathetic fibers coursed to the ligated DRG. The latter treatment, a relatively minimal form of sympathectomy, was also highly effective in reducing mechanical pain ipsilateral to the SNL.
Copyright © 2010 International Association for the Study of Pain. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.