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Jenell R. Smith and Beth A. Winkelstein


Painful neuropathic injuries induce blood–spinal cord barrier (BSCB) breakdown, allowing pro-inflammatory serum molecules to cross the BSCB, which contributes to nociception. The goal of these studies was to determine whether the blood-borne serine protease thrombin also crosses a permeable BSCB, contributing to nociception through its activation of protease-activated receptor-1 (PAR1).


A 15-minute C-7 nerve root compression, which induces BSCB breakdown and painful behaviors by Day 1, was administered in the rat (n = 10); sham operation (n = 11) and a 3-minute compression (n = 10) that does not induce sensitivity were administered as controls. At Day 1 after root compression, spinal cord tissue was co-immunolabeled for fibrin/fibrinogen, the enzymatic product of thrombin, and IgG, a serum protein, to determine whether thrombin acts in areas of BSCB breakdown. To determine whether spinal thrombin and PAR1 contribute to hyperalgesia after compression, the thrombin inhibitor hirudin and the PAR1 antagonist SCH79797, were separately administered intrathecally before compression injuries (n = 5–7 per group). Rat thrombin was also administered intrathecally with and without SCH79797 (n = 6 per group) to determine whether spinal thrombin induces hypersensitivity in naïve rats through PAR1.


Spinal fibrin(ogen) was elevated at Day 1 after root compression in regions localized to BSCB breakdown and decreased in those regions by Day 7. Blocking either spinal thrombin or PAR1 completely prevented compression-induced hyperalgesia for 7 days. Intrathecal thrombin induced transient pain that was prevented by blocking spinal PAR1 before its injection.


The findings of this study suggest a potent role for spinal thrombin and its activation of PAR1 in pain onset following neuropathic injury.

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Kristen J. Nicholson, Sijia Zhang, Taylor M. Gilliland and Beth A. Winkelstein


Cervical radiculopathy is often attributed to cervical nerve root injury, which induces extensive degeneration and reduced axonal flow in primary afferents. Riluzole inhibits neuro-excitotoxicity in animal models of neural injury. The authors undertook this study to evaluate the antinociceptive and neuroprotective properties of riluzole in a rat model of painful nerve root compression.


A single dose of riluzole (3 mg/kg) was administered intraperitoneally at Day 1 after a painful nerve root injury. Mechanical allodynia and thermal hyperalgesia were evaluated for 7 days after injury. At Day 7, the spinal cord at the C-7 level and the adjacent nerve roots were harvested from a subgroup of rats for immunohistochemical evaluation. Nerve roots were labeled for NF200, CGRP, and IB4 to assess the morphology of myelinated, peptidergic, and nonpeptidergic axons, respectively. Spinal cord sections were labeled for the neuropeptide CGRP and the glutamate transporter GLT-1 to evaluate their expression in the dorsal horn. In a separate group of rats, electrophysiological recordings were made in the dorsal horn. Evoked action potentials were identified by recording extracellular potentials while applying mechanical stimuli to the forepaw.


Even though riluzole was administered after the onset of behavioral sensitivity at Day 1, its administration resulted in immediate resolution of mechanical allodynia and thermal hyperalgesia (p < 0.045), and these effects were maintained for the study duration. At Day 7, axons labeled for NF200, CGRP, and IB4 in the compressed roots of animals that received riluzole treatment exhibited fewer axonal swellings than those from untreated animals. Riluzole also mitigated changes in the spinal distribution of CGRP and GLT-1 expression that is induced by a painful root compression, returning the spinal expression of both to sham levels. Riluzole also reduced neuronal excitability in the dorsal horn that normally develops by Day 7. The frequency of neuronal firing significantly increased (p < 0.045) after painful root compression, but riluzole treatment maintained neuronal firing at sham levels.


These findings suggest that early administration of riluzole is sufficient to mitigate nerve root–mediated pain by preventing development of neuronal dysfunction in the nerve root and the spinal cord.