Identification of key factors driving inflammation-induced sensitization of muscle sensory neurons

Front Neurosci. 2023 May 12:17:1147437. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2023.1147437. eCollection 2023.


Sensory neurons embedded in muscle tissue that initiate pain sensations, i.e., nociceptors, are temporarily sensitized by inflammatory mediators during musculoskeletal trauma. These neurons transduce peripheral noxious stimuli into an electrical signal [i.e., an action potential (AP)] and, when sensitized, demonstrate lower activation thresholds and a heightened AP response. We still do not understand the relative contributions of the various transmembrane proteins and intracellular signaling processes that drive the inflammation-induced hyperexcitability of nociceptors. In this study, we used computational analysis to identify key proteins that could regulate the inflammation-induced increase in the magnitude of AP firing in mechanosensitive muscle nociceptors. First, we extended a previously validated model of a mechanosensitive mouse muscle nociceptor to incorporate two inflammation-activated G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) signaling pathways and validated the model simulations of inflammation-induced nociceptor sensitization using literature data. Then, by performing global sensitivity analyses that simulated thousands of inflammation-induced nociceptor sensitization scenarios, we identified three ion channels and four molecular processes (from the 17 modeled transmembrane proteins and 28 intracellular signaling components) as potential regulators of the inflammation-induced increase in AP firing in response to mechanical forces. Moreover, we found that simulating single knockouts of transient receptor potential ankyrin 1 (TRPA1) and reducing the rates of Gαq-coupled receptor phosphorylation and Gαq subunit activation considerably altered the excitability of nociceptors (i.e., each modification increased or decreased the inflammation-induced fold change in the number of triggered APs compared to when all channels were present). These results suggest that altering the expression of TRPA1 or the concentration of intracellular Gαq might regulate the inflammation-induced increase in AP response of mechanosensitive muscle nociceptors.

Keywords: action potential; computational analysis; inflammation; ion channels; musculoskeletal pain; nociceptor; sensitization.