Neuropathic pain promotes adaptive changes in gene expression in brain networks involved in stress and depression

Sci Signal. 2017 Mar 21;10(471):eaaj1549. doi: 10.1126/scisignal.aaj1549.


Neuropathic pain is a complex chronic condition characterized by various sensory, cognitive, and affective symptoms. A large percentage of patients with neuropathic pain are also afflicted with depression and anxiety disorders, a pattern that is also seen in animal models. Furthermore, clinical and preclinical studies indicate that chronic pain corresponds with adaptations in several brain networks involved in mood, motivation, and reward. Chronic stress is also a major risk factor for depression. We investigated whether chronic pain and stress affect similar molecular mechanisms and whether chronic pain can affect gene expression patterns that are involved in depression. Using two mouse models of neuropathic pain and depression [spared nerve injury (SNI) and chronic unpredictable stress (CUS)], we performed next-generation RNA sequencing and pathway analysis to monitor changes in gene expression in the nucleus accumbens (NAc), the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), and the periaqueductal gray (PAG). In addition to finding unique transcriptome profiles across these regions, we identified a substantial number of signaling pathway-associated genes with similar changes in expression in both SNI and CUS mice. Many of these genes have been implicated in depression, anxiety, and chronic pain in patients. Our study provides a resource of the changes in gene expression induced by long-term neuropathic pain in three distinct brain regions and reveals molecular connections between pain and chronic stress.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / genetics
  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Chronic Pain / physiopathology
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Depression / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Nerve Net / metabolism*
  • Neuralgia / physiopathology*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / metabolism
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiopathology
  • Periaqueductal Gray / metabolism
  • Periaqueductal Gray / physiopathology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology
  • Signal Transduction / genetics
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology