Injury-induced sensitization of nociceptors contributes to pain states and the development of chronic pain. Inhibiting activity-dependent mRNA translation through mechanistic target of rapamycin and mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways blocks the development of nociceptor sensitization. These pathways convergently signal to the eukaryotic translation initiation factor (eIF) 4F complex to regulate the sensitization of nociceptors, but the details of this process are ill defined. Here we investigated the hypothesis that phosphorylation of the 5' cap-binding protein eIF4E by its specific kinase MAPK interacting kinases (MNKs) 1/2 is a key factor in nociceptor sensitization and the development of chronic pain. Phosphorylation of ser209 on eIF4E regulates the translation of a subset of mRNAs. We show that pronociceptive and inflammatory factors, such as nerve growth factor (NGF), interleukin-6 (IL-6), and carrageenan, produce decreased mechanical and thermal hypersensitivity, decreased affective pain behaviors, and strongly reduced hyperalgesic priming in mice lacking eIF4E phosphorylation (eIF4ES209A ). Tests were done in both sexes, and no sex differences were found. Moreover, in patch-clamp electrophysiology and Ca2+ imaging experiments on dorsal root ganglion neurons, NGF- and IL-6-induced increases in excitability were attenuated in neurons from eIF4ES209A mice. These effects were recapitulated in Mnk1/2-/- mice and with the MNK1/2 inhibitor cercosporamide. We also find that cold hypersensitivity induced by peripheral nerve injury is reduced in eIF4ES209A and Mnk1/2-/- mice and following cercosporamide treatment. Our findings demonstrate that the MNK1/2-eIF4E signaling axis is an important contributing factor to mechanisms of nociceptor plasticity and the development of chronic pain.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Chronic pain is a debilitating disease affecting approximately one in three Americans. Chronic pain is thought to be driven by changes in the excitability of peripheral nociceptive neurons, but the precise mechanisms controlling these changes are not elucidated. Emerging evidence demonstrates that mRNA translation regulation pathways are key factors in changes in nociceptor excitability. Our work demonstrates that a single phosphorylation site on the 5' cap-binding protein eIF4E is a critical mechanism for changes in nociceptor excitability that drive the development of chronic pain. We reveal a new mechanistic target for the development of a chronic pain state and propose that targeting the upstream kinase, MAPK interacting kinase 1/2, could be used as a therapeutic approach for chronic pain.
Keywords: MNK1; MNK2; chronic pain; dorsal root ganglion; eIF4E; nociceptor.
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