NGF-induced mechanical sensitization of the masseter muscle is mediated through peripheral NMDA receptors

Neuroscience. 2014 Jun 6;269:232-44. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2014.03.054. Epub 2014 Apr 4.


Intramuscular injection of nerve growth factor (NGF) in healthy humans mimics some of the symptoms of myofascial temporomandibular disorders (M-TMD). We hypothesized that NGF induces a prolonged myofascial mechanical sensitization by increasing peripheral N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor expression, leading to an enhanced response of muscle nociceptors to endogenous glutamate. Behavioral experiments with an injection of NGF (25 μg/ml, 10 μl) into the masseter muscle reduced the mechanical withdrawal threshold for 1 day in male rats and 5 days in female rats. These results mirror the sex-related differences found in NGF-induced mechanical sensitization in humans. Intramuscular injection with the competitive NMDA receptor antagonist dl-2-amino-5-phosphonovaleric acid (APV, 0.020 g/ml, 10 μl) reversed the mechanical sensitization in male but not in female rats. NGF increased the number of NMDA receptor subtype 2B (NR2B)-expressing rat trigeminal masseter ganglion neurons in both sexes, which peaked at 3 days post injection. There was an association between the levels of NR2B expression and NGF-induced mechanical sensitization. The average soma size of NR2B-expressing neurons increased significantly. Increased expression of neuropeptides (CGRP and SP) was observed in NR2B-expressing masseter ganglion neurons in female but not in male rats. In healthy men and women, comparable basal expression levels of NR2B and SP were found in peripheral fibers from masseter muscle microbiopsies. This study suggests that NGF-induced sensitization of masseter nociceptors is mediated, in part, by enhanced peripheral NMDA receptor expression. Measurement of peripheral NMDA receptor expression may be useful as a biomarker for M-TMD pain.

Keywords: masseter muscle; nerve growth factor; nociceptors; sensitization; temporomandibular disorders; trigeminal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 2-Amino-5-phosphonovalerate / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Cell Size
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hyperalgesia / drug therapy
  • Hyperalgesia / pathology
  • Hyperalgesia / physiopathology*
  • Masseter Muscle / drug effects
  • Masseter Muscle / physiopathology*
  • Nerve Growth Factor
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / pathology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Nociceptors / drug effects
  • Nociceptors / pathology
  • Nociceptors / physiology*
  • Pain Threshold / drug effects
  • Pain Threshold / physiology
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / metabolism*
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Species Specificity
  • Touch
  • Trigeminal Ganglion / drug effects
  • Trigeminal Ganglion / pathology
  • Trigeminal Ganglion / physiopathology*


  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists
  • NR2B NMDA receptor
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • 2-Amino-5-phosphonovalerate
  • Nerve Growth Factor