Neuropathic pain is debilitating, and when chronic, it significantly affects the patient physically, psychologically, and socially. The neurobehavior of animals used as a model for chronic constriction injury seems analogous to the neurobehavior of humans with neuropathic pain. However, no data depicting the severity of histomorphological alterations of the nervous system associated with graded changes in neurobehavior are available. To determine the severity of histomorphological alteration related to neurobehavior, the authors created a model of chronic constrictive injury of varying intensity in rats and used the CatWalk XT system to evaluate neurobehavior.
A total of 60 Sprague-Dawley rats, weighing 250–300 g each, were randomly assigned to 1 of 5 groups that would receive sham surgery or 1, 2, 3, or 4 ligatures of 3-0 chromic gut loosely ligated around the left sciatic nerve. Neurobehavior was assessed by CatWalk XT, thermal hyperalgesia, and mechanic allodynia before injury and periodically after injury. The nerve tissue from skin to dorsal spinal cord was obtained for histomorphological analysis 1 week after injury, and brain evoked potentials were analyzed 4 weeks after injury.
Significant differences in expression of nerve growth factor existed in skin, and the differences were associated with the intensity of nerve injury. After injury, expression of cluster of differentiation 68 and tumor necrosis factor–α was increased, and expression of S100 protein in the middle of the injured nerve was decreased. Increased expression of synaptophysin in the dorsal root ganglion and dorsal spinal cord correlated with the intensity of injury. The amplitude of sensory evoked potential increased with greater severity of nerve damage. Mechanical allodynia and thermal hyperalgesia did not differ significantly among treatment groups at various time points. CatWalk XT gait analysis indicated significant differences for print areas, maximum contact maximum intensity, stand phase, swing phase, single stance, and regular index, with sham and/or intragroup comparisons.
Histomorphological and electrophysiological alterations were associated with severity of nerve damage. Subtle neurobehavioral differences were detected by the CatWalk XT system but not by mechanical allodynia or thermal hyperalgesia. Thus, the CatWalk XT system should be a useful tool for monitoring changes in neuropathic pain, especially subtle alterations.