In the spinal nerve ligation (SNL) model of neuropathic pain, as in other pain models, abnormal spontaneous activity of myelinated sensory neurons occurs early and is essential for establishing pain behaviors and other pathologies. Sympathetic sprouting into the dorsal root ganglion (DRG) is observed after SNL, and sympathectomy reduces pain behavior. Sprouting and spontaneous activity may be mutually reinforcing: blocking neuronal activity reduces sympathetic sprouting, and sympathetic spouts functionally increase spontaneous activity in vitro. However, most studies in this field have used nonspecific methods to block spontaneous activity, methods that also block evoked and normal activity. In this study, we injected small inhibitory (si) RNA directed against the NaV1.6 sodium channel isoform into the DRG before SNL. This isoform can mediate high-frequency repetitive firing, like that seen in spontaneously active neurons. Local knockdown of NaV1.6 markedly reduced mechanical pain behaviors induced by SNL, reduced sympathetic sprouting into the ligated sensory ganglion, and blocked abnormal spontaneous activity and other measures of hyperexcitability in myelinated neurons in the ligated sensory ganglion. Immunohistochemical experiments showed that sympathetic sprouting preferentially targeted NaV1.6-positive neurons. Under these experimental conditions, NaV1.6 knockdown did not prevent or strongly alter single evoked action potentials, unlike previous less specific methods used to block spontaneous activity. NaV1.6 knockdown also reduced pain behaviors in another pain model, chronic constriction of the sciatic nerve, provided the model was modified so that the lesion site was relatively close to the siRNA-injected lumbar DRGs. The results highlight the relative importance of abnormal spontaneous activity in establishing both pain behaviors and sympathetic sprouting, and suggest that the NaV1.6 isoform may have value as a therapeutic target.
Keywords: Scn8a; allodynia; ectopic activity; spinal nerve ligation; spontaneous activity; sympathetic sprouting.
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