In Vitro Model to Investigate Communication between Dorsal Root Ganglion and Spinal Cord Glia

Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Sep 8;22(18):9725. doi: 10.3390/ijms22189725.


Chronic discogenic back pain is associated with increased inflammatory cytokine levels that can influence the proximal peripheral nervous system, namely the dorsal root ganglion (DRG). However, transition to chronic pain is widely thought to involve glial activation in the spinal cord. In this study, an in vitro model was used to evaluate the communication between DRG and spinal cord glia. Primary neonatal rat DRG cells were treated with/without inflammatory cytokines (TNF-α, IL-1β, and IL-6). The conditioned media were collected at two time points (12 and 24 h) and applied to spinal cord mixed glial culture (MGC) for 24 h. Adult bovine DRG and spinal cord cell cultures were also tested, as an alternative large animal model, and results were compared with the neonatal rat findings. Compared with untreated DRG-conditioned medium, the second cytokine-treated DRG-conditioned medium (following medium change, thus containing solely DRG-derived molecules) elevated CD11b expression and calcium signal in neonatal rat microglia and enhanced Iba1 expression in adult bovine microglia. Cytokine treatment induced a DRG-mediated microgliosis. The described in vitro model allows the use of cells from large species and may represent an alternative to animal pain models (3R principles).

Keywords: 3R principles; dorsal root ganglion; in vitro model; inflammatory cytokine; low back pain; mixed glial culture; spinal cord.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Biomarkers
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Cell Communication*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Ganglia, Spinal / physiology*
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism
  • Microglia / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Neuroglia / physiology*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Spinal Cord / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission*


  • Biomarkers
  • Cytokines
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Calcium