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2020 Sep 16

Sci Rep



Ocular surface inflammation induces de novo expression of substance P in the trigeminal primary afferents with large cell bodies.



We evaluated the changes in substance P (SP)-expressing trigeminal neurons (TNs) innervating the cornea following ocular surface inflammation. Ocular surface inflammation was induced in Sprague-Dawley rats using 0.1% benzalkonium chloride (BAK). The corneal staining score, corneal epithelial apoptosis, conjunctival goblet cells, and density of corneal subbasal nerve plexus (SNP) were assessed, and the mRNA levels of SP, interleukin (IL)-1β, IL-6, and tumour necrosis factor-α were measured in corneas and ipsilateral trigeminal ganglia (TG). SP-immunoreactivity (IR) was measured in corneal intraepithelial nerves and TNs. The cell size of corneal TNs in the TG was calculated. All parameters were observed immediately (BAK group), at 1 week (1 w group), and 2 months (2 m group) after 2 weeks of BAK application. BAK caused an increase in the corneal staining score and the number of apoptotic cells, loss of conjunctival goblet cells, reduced density of corneal SNP, and upregulated expression of SP and inflammatory cytokines in both the cornea and TG in the BAK group but those changes were not observed in the 2 m group. On the other hand, SP-IR% and mean cell size of corneal TNs increased significantly in the BAK, 1 w, and 2 m groups, compared to the control. Our data suggest that following ocular surface inflammation, large-sized corneal TNs which normally do not express SP, expressed it and this phenotype switching lasted even after the inflammation disappeared. Long-lasting phenotypic switch, as well as changes in the expression level of certain molecules should be addressed in future studies on the mechanism of corneal neuropathic pain.