Dorsal horn disinhibition and movement-induced behaviour in a rat model of inflammatory arthritis

Rheumatology (Oxford). 2021 Feb 1;60(2):918-928. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/keaa396.


Objectives: Alterations beyond joint inflammation such as changes in dorsal horn (DH) excitability contribute to pain in inflammatory arthritis (IA). More complete understanding of specific underlying mechanisms will be important to define novel targets for the treatment of IA pain. Pre-clinical models are useful, but relevant pain assays are vital for successful clinical translation. For this purpose, a method is presented to assess movement-induced pain-related behaviour changes that was subsequently used to investigate DH disinhibition in IA.

Methods: IA was induced by intra-articular injection of complete Freund's adjuvant (CFA) in male rats, and weight distribution was assessed before and after walking on a treadmill. To confirm increased activity in nociception-related pathways, fos expression was assessed in the superficial DH, including in nociceptive neurons, identified by neurokinin 1 (NK1) immunoreactivity, and interneurons. Inhibitory terminal density onto NK1+ neurons was assessed and lastly, a cohort of animals was treated for 3 days with gabapentin.

Results: At 4 weeks post-CFA, walking reduced weight distribution to the affected joint and increased DH fos expression, including in NK1+ neurons. Neuronal activity in inhibitory cells and inhibitory terminal density on NK1+ neurons were decreased in CFA-treated animals compared with controls. Treatment with gabapentin led to recovered behaviour and DH neuronal activity pattern in CFA-treated animals.

Conclusion: We describe an assay to assess movement-induced pain-related behaviour changes in a rodent IA model. Furthermore, our results suggest that disinhibition may contribute to pain related to movement in IA.

Keywords: arthritis; behaviour; inhibition; nervous system; spinal cord.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / pharmacology
  • Analgesics / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Arthralgia* / diagnosis
  • Arthralgia* / psychology
  • Arthralgia* / therapy
  • Arthritis / immunology
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Freund's Adjuvant / pharmacology*
  • Gabapentin / pharmacology*
  • Immunity, Cellular
  • Neural Inhibition / drug effects
  • Nociceptors / drug effects
  • Pain Measurement / methods*
  • Pain Threshold
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Neurokinin-1 / metabolism
  • Spinal Cord Dorsal Horn / immunology*
  • Walking* / physiology
  • Walking* / psychology


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Analgesics
  • Receptors, Neurokinin-1
  • Gabapentin
  • Freund's Adjuvant

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