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Papers of the Week

Papers: 6 Apr 2019 - 12 Apr 2019

Human Studies

2019 Apr 02


Parallels between lumbosacral radiculopathy and complex regional pain syndrome: α1-adrenoceptor upregulation, reduced dermal nerve fibre density and hemi-sensory disturbances in post-surgical sciatica.


Residual lower limb pain after low back surgery (post-surgical sciatica) and complex regional pain syndrome involving a lower limb (CRPS) are separate conditions, but may share some mechanisms (e.g., tissue inflammation, neuro-immune disturbances and central neuro-plasticity). As adrenergically-evoked pain contributes, in part, to CRPS, whether an adrenergic mechanism also contributes to post-surgical sciatica was investigated in this study. Immunohistochemistry was used to identify α1-adrenoceptors (α1-AR) on nerve fibres and other targets in the affected and contralateral skin of 25 patients with post-surgical sciatica, and α1-AR expression was investigated in relation to pain and pinprick hyperalgesia after intradermal injection of the α1-AR agonist phenylephrine. In addition, quantitative sensory testing was performed on all four limbs and on each side of the forehead. α1-AR expression was greater in keratinocytes (but not blood vessels or nerve fibres) in the symptomatic than contralateral leg, and dermal nerve fibre density was reduced in both legs. However, distal adrenergic involvement in pain in post-surgical sciatica seems unlikely, as neither heightened α1-AR expression in keratinocytes nor reduced dermal nerve fibre density were associated with pain or hyperalgesia to intradermal phenylephrine injection. Sensitivity to pressure-pain, pinprick and cold-pain was greater in the ipsilateral than contralateral forehead of the entire cohort, but sensory disturbances were most pronounced in patients with additional CRPS-like features. Together, these findings suggest that bilateral distal neuropathy and central neuro-plastic changes are involved not only in the pathophysiology of CRPS but also in post-surgical sciatica. This may have treatment implications for patients with post-surgical sciatica.