Objective: Mounting evidence indicates that stress influences the experience of pain. Exposure to psychosocial stress disrupts bi-directional communication pathways between the central nervous system and peripheral immune system, and can exacerbate the frequency and severity of pain experienced by stressed subjects. Repeated social defeat (RSD) is a murine model of psychosocial stress that recapitulates the immune and behavioral responses to stress observed in humans, including activation of stress-reactive neurocircuitry and increased pro-inflammatory cytokine production. It is unclear, however, how these stress-induced neuroimmune responses contribute to increased pain sensitivity in mice exposed to RSD. Here we used a technique of regional analgesia with local anesthetics in mice to block the development of mechanical allodynia during RSD. We next investigated the degree to which pain blockade altered stress-induced neuroimmune activation and depressive-like behavior.
Methods: Following development of a mouse model of regional analgesia with discrete sensory blockade over the dorsal-caudal aspect of the spine, C57BL/6 mice were divided into experimental groups and treated with Ropivacaine (0.08%), Liposomal Bupivacaine (0.08%), or Vehicle (0.9% NaCl) prior to exposure to stress. This specific region was selected for analgesia because it is the most frequent location for aggression-associated pain due to biting during RSD. Mechanical allodynia was assessed 12 h after the first, third, and sixth day of RSD after resolution of the sensory blockade. In a separate experiment, social avoidance behavior was determined after the sixth day of RSD. Blood, bone marrow, brain, and spinal cord were collected for immunological analyses after the last day of RSD in both experiments following behavioral assessments.
Results: RSD increased mechanical allodynia in an exposure-dependent manner that persisted for at least one week following cessation of the stressor. Mice treated with either Ropivacaine or Liposomal Bupivacaine did not develop mechanical allodynia following exposure to stress, but did develop social avoidance behavior. Neither drug affected stress-induced activation of monocytes in the bone marrow, blood, or brain. Neuroinflammatory responses developed in all treatment groups, as evidenced by elevated IL-1β mRNA levels in the brain and spinal cord after RSD.
Conclusions: In this study, psychosocial stress was associated with increased pain sensitivity in mice. Development of mechanical allodynia with RSD was blocked by regional analgesia with local anesthetics, Ropivacaine or Liposomal Bupivacaine. Despite blocking mechanical allodynia, these anesthetic interventions did not prevent neuroimmune activation or social avoidance associated with RSD. These data suggest that stress-induced neuroinflammatory changes are not associated with increased sensitivity to pain following RSD. Thus, blocking peripheral nociception was effective in inhibiting enhanced pain signaling without altering stress-induced immune or behavioral responses.
Keywords: Pain; Regional analgesia; Social avoidance; Stress.
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