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Papers of the Week

Papers: 30 Apr 2022 - 6 May 2022

Human Studies

2022 Mar 28

J Neuroendocrinol

Sciatic nerve injury rebalances the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in rats with persistent changes to their social behaviours.


Increased glucocorticoids characterise acute pain responses, but not the chronic pain state, suggesting specific modifications to the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA)-axis preventing the persistent nature of chronic pain from elevating basal glucocorticoid levels. Individuals with chronic pain mount normal HPA-axis responses to acute stressors, indicating a rebalancing of the circuits underpinning these responses. Preclinical models of chronic neuropathic pain generally recapitulate these clinical observations, but few studies have considered that the underlying neuroendocrine circuitry may be altered. Additionally, individual differences in the behavioural outcomes of these pain models, which are strikingly similar to the range of behavioural subpopulations that manifest in response to stress, threat and motivational cues, may also be reflected in divergent patterns of HPA-axis activity, which characterises these other behavioural subpopulations. We investigated the effects of sciatic nerve chronic constriction injury (CCI) on adrenocortical and hypothalamic markers of HPA-axis activity in the subpopulation of rats showing persistent changes in social interactions after CCI (Persistent Effect) and compared them with rats that do not show these changes (No Effect). Basal plasma corticosterone did not change after CCI and did not differ between groups. However, adrenocortical sensitivity to adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) diverged between these groups. No Effect rats showed large increases in basal plasma ACTH with no change in adrenocortical melanocortin 2 receptor (MC R) expression, whereas Persistent Effect rats showed modest decreases in plasma ACTH and large increases in MC R expression. In the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus of Persistent Effect rats, single labelling revealed significantly increased numbers of corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) +ve and glucocorticoid receptor (GR) +ve neurons. Double-labelling revealed fewer GR +ve CRF +ve neurons, suggesting a decreased hypothalamic sensitivity of CRF neurons to circulating corticosterone in Persistent Effect rats. We suggest that in addition to rebalancing the HPA-axis, the increased CRF expression in Persistent Effect rats contributes to changes in complex behaviours, and in particular social interactions.