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Papers of the Week

Papers: 13 Jun 2020 - 19 Jun 2020

Animal Studies

2020 Jun 09

Neurobiol Dis

ErbB1-dependent signalling and vesicular trafficking in primary afferent nociceptors associated with hypersensitivity in neuropathic pain.


Mitchell R, Mikolajczak M, Kersten C, Fleetwood-Walker S
Neurobiol Dis. 2020 Jun 09:104961.
PMID: 32531343.


Effective analgesic treatment for neuropathic pain remains an unmet need, so previous evidence that epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitors (EGFRIs) provide unexpected rapid pain relief in a clinical setting points to a novel therapeutic opportunity. The present study utilises rodent models to address the cellular and molecular basis for the findings, focusing on primary sensory neurons because clinical pain relief is provided not only by small molecule EGFRIs, but also by the anti-EGFR antibodies cetuximab and panitumumab, which are unlikely to access the central nervous system in therapeutic concentrations. We report robust, rapid and dose-dependent analgesic effects of EGFRIs in two neuropathic pain models, matched by evidence with highly selective antibodies that expression of the EGFR (ErbB1 protein) is limited to small nociceptive afferent neurons. As other ErbB family members can heterodimerise with ErbB1, we investigated their distribution, showing consistent co-expression of ErbB2 but not ErbB3 or ErbB4, with ErbB1 in cell bodies of nociceptors, as well as providing evidence for direct molecular interaction of ErbB1 with ErbB2 in situ. Co-administration of selective ErbB1 and ErbB2 inhibitors produced clear evidence of greater-than-additive, synergistic analgesia; highlighting the prospect of a unique new combination therapy in which enhanced efficacy could be accompanied by minimisation of side-effects. Peripheral (intraplantar) administration of EGF elicited hypersensitivity only following nerve injury and this was reversed by local co-administration of selective inhibitors of either ErbB1 or ErbB2. Investigating how ErbB1 is activated in neuropathic pain, we found evidence for a role of Src tyrosine kinase, which can be activated by signals from inflammatory mediators, chemokines and cytokines during neuroinflammation. Considering downstream consequences of ErbB1 activation in neuropathic pain, we found direct recruitment to ErbB1 of an adapter for PI 3-kinase and Akt signalling together with clear Akt activation and robust analgesia from selective Akt inhibitors. The known Akt target and regulator of vesicular trafficking, AS160 was strongly phosphorylated at a perinuclear location during neuropathic pain in an ErbB1-, ErbB2- and Akt-dependent manner, corresponding to clustering and translocation of an AS160-partner, the vesicular chaperone, LRP1. Exploring whether neuronal ion channels that could contribute to hyperexcitability might be transported by this vesicular trafficking pathway we were able to identify Na1.9, (Na1.8) and Ca1.2 moving towards the plasma membrane or into proximal axonal locations – a process prevented by ErbB1 or Akt inhibitors. Overall these findings newly reveal both upstream and downstream signals to explain how ErbB1 can act as a signalling hub in neuropathic pain models and identify the trafficking of key ion channels to neuronal subcellular locations likely to contribute to hyperexcitability. The new concept of combined treatment with ErbB1 plus ErbB2 blockers is mechanistically validated as a promising strategy for the relief of neuropathic pain.