Inhibition of the protein kinase IKKepsilon attenuates neuropathic pain in mice

Neuropharmacology. 2019 Mar 1;146:198-211. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2018.12.004. Epub 2018 Dec 6.


Inhibitor-kappaB kinase epsilon (IKKε, Ikbke) constitutes an NF-κB activating kinase with high homology to the classical I-κB kinase subunits, IKKα and IKKβ. It is expressed in nociceptive neurons in the spinal cord and in dorsal root ganglia (DRG) and involved in inflammatory nociception. Under inflammatory conditions, IKKε deficient mice show significantly less nociceptive behavior in comparison to wild type mice associated with reduced activation of NF-κB and attenuated NF-κB-dependent gene expression. The role of IKKε in neuropathic pain has not been investigated so far. We applied the spared nerve injury (SNI) model of neuropathic pain in mice and found an increased expression of IKKε in the spinal cord, the DRGs and the sciatic nerve after induction of neuropathy. Genetic depletion of IKKε or pharmacological inhibition by amlexanox led to a significant reduction of mechanical hyperalgesia and cold allodynia in comparison to control mice. Transcription factor ELISA indicated that the effects are mediated by reduced activation of NF-κB. Furthermore, immunofluorescence staining, qPCR and Western Blot analyses revealed that the decreased pain-like behavior was associated with a reduced activation of microglia, diminished expression of c-fos as well as a decreased activation of MAP-Kinases. In summary, we conclude that IKKε modulates mechanisms of neuropathic pain by activating NF-κB. The administration of IKKε inhibitors might therefore constitute a new and promising approach for the therapy of neuropathic pain.

Keywords: DRG; Nerve injury; Neuropathic pain; Pain behavior; Spinal cord.

MeSH terms

  • Aminopyridines / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Ganglia, Spinal / metabolism
  • Hyperalgesia / drug therapy
  • Hyperalgesia / genetics
  • I-kappa B Kinase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • I-kappa B Kinase / deficiency*
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System / genetics
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Microglia
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • Neuralgia / chemically induced
  • Neuralgia / drug therapy*
  • Peripheral Nerve Injuries / drug therapy
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism
  • Sciatic Nerve / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Spinal Cord / metabolism


  • Aminopyridines
  • NF-kappa B
  • amlexanox
  • Tbk1 protein, mouse
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • I-kappa B Kinase