Brain Metabolism in Rats With Neuropathic Pain Induced by Brachial Plexus Avulsion Injury and Treated via Electroacupuncture

J Pain Res. 2020 Mar 23;13:585-595. doi: 10.2147/JPR.S232030. eCollection 2020.


Purpose: Brain organisation is involved in the mechanism of neuropathic pain. Acupuncture is a common clinical practise in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of chronic pain. This study explored electroacupuncture's effects on brain metabolism following brachial plexus avulsion injury (BPAI)-induced pain.

Methods: A total of 32 female rats were randomised into a normal group, model group, sham electroacupuncture group, and electroacupuncture group. A pain model was included via right BPAI. The electroacupuncture intervention at cervical "Jiaji" points (C5-7) was performed for 11 weeks. The mechanical withdrawal threshold of the non-injured (left) forepaw was measured at the baseline and on days 3, 7, 14, 21, 28, 56, 84, and 112 subsequent to BPAI. Positron emission tomography (PET) was applied to explore metabolic changes on days 28, 84, and 112.

Results: After electroacupuncture, the mechanical withdrawal threshold of the left forepaws was significantly elevated and the effect persisted until 4 weeks after the intervention ceased (p<0.05 or p<0.001). In the sensorimotor-related brain regions, standardised uptake values in the bilateral somatosensory and motor cortices were observed in the electroacupuncture group. Metabolism particularly increased in the right somatosensory cortex. Metabolism changes also occurred in the pain-related brain regions and emotion- and cognition-related brain regions.

Conclusion: The present study demonstrated the beneficial effects of electroacupuncture for relieving BPAI-induced neuropathic pain in rats. Electroacupuncture intervention might inhibit maladaptive plasticity in brain areas governing multidimensional functions, especially in sensorimotor- and cognition-related cortices.

Keywords: brachial plexus avulsion injury; electroacupuncture; metabolic mechanism; neuropathic pain; small animal 18F-FDG PET/CT.