Peripheral nerve injury causes a progressive series of morphological changes in spinal microglia, and extracellular ATP stimulates proliferation of microglia and may be involved in neuropathic pain. We defined the precise expression of P2X7 in the spinal cord following peripheral nerve injury. We found that both P2X7 mRNA and protein increased in the spinal cord, with a peak at 7d after injury. Double labeling studies revealed that cells expressing increased P2X7 mRNA and protein after nerve injury were predominantly microglia in dorsal horn. Pharmacological blockades by intrathecal administration of a P2X7 antagonist (A 438079 hydrochloride) suppressed the development of mechanical hypersensitivity. We present distinct evidence that increases in the number of P2X7 receptors in spinal microglia may play an important role in neuropathic pain.
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