Human dorsal root ganglion pulsed radiofrequency treatment modulates cerebrospinal fluid lymphocytes and neuroinflammatory markers in chronic radicular pain

Brain Behav Immun. 2018 May:70:157-165. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2018.02.010. Epub 2018 Feb 16.


Radicular pain is a common cause of disability. Traditionally treatment has been either epidural steroid injection providing short-term relief or surgery with associated complications. Pulsed radiofrequency (PRF) applied to the dorsal root ganglion (DRG) is a minimally invasive day-care treatment, which is gaining significant clinical acceptance in a selective group of patients with pure radicular pain. Greater insights into the immunomodulatory effects of this procedure may help to further optimise its application and find alternative treatment options. We have examined it's effect on lymphocyte frequencies and secreted inflammatory markers in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and correlated this with clinical outcome to identify clinical markers of chronic radicular pain. Ten patients were recruited for the study. CSF lymphocyte frequencies and levels of cytokines, chemokines and growth factors were quantified using flow cytometry and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), respectively. Clinical assessment utilised Brief Pain Inventory scores. Nine out of ten patients (90%) demonstrated significant reduction in pain severity (p = 0.0007) and pain interference scores (p = 0.0015) three months post-treatment. Our data revealed significant reductions in CD56+, CD3-, NK cell frequencies (p = 0.03) and IFN-γ levels (p = 0.03) in treatment responders, while CD8+ T cell frequencies (p = 0.02) and IL-6 levels were increased (p = 0.05). IL-17 inversely correlated with post-treatment pain severity score (p = 0.01) and pre and post-treatment pain interference scores (p = 0.03, p = 0.01). These results support the concept that chronic radicular pain is a centrally mediated neuroimmune phenomenon and the mechanism of action of DRG PRF treatment is immunomodulatory.

Keywords: Cerebrospinal fluid; Chemokines; Cytokines; Dorsal root ganglion; Growth factors; IFN-γ; NK cells; Pulsed radiofrequency; Radicular pain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biomarkers
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid
  • Chronic Pain / radiotherapy*
  • Female
  • Ganglia, Spinal / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain
  • Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuralgia / radiotherapy*
  • Neuroimmunomodulation / physiology
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pulsed Radiofrequency Treatment / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Biomarkers