Regulatory T-cells inhibit microglia-induced pain hypersensitivity in female mice

Elife. 2021 Oct 15:10:e69056. doi: 10.7554/eLife.69056.


Peripheral nerve injury-induced neuropathic pain is a chronic and debilitating condition characterized by mechanical hypersensitivity. We previously identified microglial activation via release of colony-stimulating factor 1 (CSF1) from injured sensory neurons as a mechanism contributing to nerve injury-induced pain. Here, we show that intrathecal administration of CSF1, even in the absence of injury, is sufficient to induce pain behavior, but only in male mice. Transcriptional profiling and morphologic analyses after intrathecal CSF1 showed robust immune activation in male but not female microglia. CSF1 also induced marked expansion of lymphocytes within the spinal cord meninges, with preferential expansion of regulatory T-cells (Tregs) in female mice. Consistent with the hypothesis that Tregs actively suppress microglial activation in females, Treg deficient (Foxp3DTR) female mice showed increased CSF1-induced microglial activation and pain hypersensitivity equivalent to males. We conclude that sexual dimorphism in the contribution of microglia to pain results from Treg-mediated suppression of microglial activation and pain hypersensitivity in female mice.

Keywords: CSF1; Treg; meninges; microglia; mouse; neuroscience; pain; spinal cord.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Injections, Spinal
  • Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor / administration & dosage
  • Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor / genetics*
  • Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Microglia / metabolism*
  • Neuralgia / genetics*
  • Sex Factors
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / physiology*


  • CSF1 protein, mouse
  • Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor

Associated data

  • GEO/GSE184801