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Papers of the Week

Papers: 28 Oct 2023 - 3 Nov 2023

2023 Oct 31

J Neurotrauma


Chemogenetic attenuation of acute nociceptive signaling enhances functional outcomes following spinal cord injury.


Amar Kumar P, Stallman J, Kharbat Y, Hoppe J, Leonards A, Kerim E, Nguyen B, Adkins RL, Baltazar A, Milligan S, Letchuman S, Hook MA, Dulin J


Identifying novel therapeutic approaches to promote recovery of neurological functions following spinal cord injury (SCI) remains a great unmet need. Nociceptive signaling in the acute phase of SCI has been shown to inhibit recovery of locomotor function and promote the development of chronic neuropathic pain. We therefore hypothesized that inhibition of nociceptive signaling in the acute phase of SCI might improve long-term functional outcomes in the chronic phase of injury. To test this hypothesis, we took advantage of a selective strategy utilizing AAV6 to deliver inhibitory (hM4Di) DREADDs to nociceptors of the L4-L6 dorsal root ganglia, in order to evaluate the effects of transient nociceptor silencing on long-term sensory and motor functional outcomes in a rat thoracic contusion SCI model. Following hM4Di-mediated nociceptor inhibition from 0-14 days post-SCI, we conducted behavioral assessments until 70 days post-SCI, then performed histological assessments of lesion severity and axon plasticity. Our results show highly selective expression of hM4Di within small diameter nociceptors including CGRP+ and IB4-binding neurons. Expression of hM4Di in less than 25% of nociceptors was sufficient to increase hindlimb thermal withdrawal latency in naïve rats. Compared to subjects that received AAV-YFP (control), subjects that received AAV-hM4Di exhibited attenuated thermal hyperalgesia, greater coordination, and improved hindlimb locomotor function. However, treatment did not impact the development of cold allodynia or mechanical hyperalgesia. Histological assessments of spinal cord tissue suggested trends toward reduced lesion volume, increased neuronal sparing and increased CGRP+ axon sprouting in hM4Di-treated animals. Together, these findings suggest that nociceptor silencing early after SCI may promote beneficial plasticity in the acute phase of injury that can impact long-term functional outcomes, and support previous work highlighting primary nociceptors as possible therapeutic targets for pain management after SCI.