Peripheral and central nervous system alterations in a rat model of inflammatory arthritis

Pain. 2020 Jul;161(7):1483-1496. doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001837.


It is consistently reported that in inflammatory arthritis (IA), pain may continue despite well-controlled inflammation, most likely due to interactions between joint pathology and pain pathway alterations. Nervous system alterations have been described, but much remains to be understood about neuronal and central non-neuronal changes in IA. Using a rat model of IA induced by intra-articular complete Freund's adjuvant injection, this study includes a thorough characterization of joint pathology and objectives to identify peripheral innervation changes and alterations in the spinal dorsal horn (DH) that could alter DH excitatory balancing. Male and female rats displayed long-lasting pain-related behavior, but, in agreement with our previous studies, other pathological alterations emerged only at later times. Cartilage vascularization, thinning, and decreased proteoglycan content were not detectable in the ipsilateral cartilage until 4 weeks after complete Freund's adjuvant. Sympathetic and peptidergic nociceptive fibers invaded the ipsilateral cartilage alongside blood vessels, complex innervation changes were observed in the surrounding skin, and ipsilateral nerve growth factor protein expression was increased. In the DH, we examined innervation by peptidergic and nonpeptidergic nociceptors, inhibitory terminal density, the KCl cotransporter KCC2, microgliosis, and astrocytosis. Here, we detected the presence of microgliosis and, interestingly, an apparent loss of inhibitory terminals and decreased expression of KCC2. In conclusion, we found evidence of anatomical, inflammatory, and neuronal alterations in the peripheral and central nervous systems in a model of IA. Together, these suggest that there may be a shift in the balance between incoming and outgoing excitation, and modulatory inhibitory tone in the DH.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthritis*
  • Female
  • Freund's Adjuvant / toxicity
  • Inflammation / chemically induced
  • Male
  • Nociceptors*
  • Pain / etiology
  • Rats
  • Spinal Cord Dorsal Horn


  • Freund's Adjuvant