We recently found that the number of synapses in the spinal dorsal horn, as estimated by stereological techniques, increased by 86% after chronic constriction injury of sciatic nerve in rats. In this study, we aimed to reveal whether transection of sciatic nerve was also associated with a plasticity change in the number of synapses. 18 adult SD rats were randomly divided into 3 groups undergoing (i) unilateral sham operation, (ii) unilateral sciatic nerve transection, and (iii) unilateral sciatic nerve transection with postoperative medication (parecoxib) for 3 days, respectively. 28 days postoperation, the L4-6 segment of the spinal cord was removed; paraffin-embedded sections were prepared and stained with Nissl's method and synaptophysin immunohistochemistry. The optical disector (a contemporary stereological technique) was used to estimate the numbers of neurons and synapses in the spinal dorsal horn. Compared to the non-operated side, the axotomy induced a 74.3% increase in the number of synapses per unit length of spinal cord or a 67.4% increase in the ratio between the numbers of synapses and neurons in the middle tissue block from the L4-6 segment on the operated side but not in either the rostral or caudal tissue block. Parecoxib had no effect on the parameters. In conclusion, peripheral nerve injury, model for neuropathic pain, is associated with a synaptic plasticity (numerical increase) in the spinal dorsal horn.
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