Object. The aims of this study were to construct an animal model of deafferentation of the spinal cord by brachial plexus avulsion and to analyze the effects of subsequent dorsal root entry zone (DREZ) lesions in this model. To this end, the authors measured the clinical and electrophysiological effects of total deafferentation of the cervical dorsal horn in rats and evaluated the clinical efficacy of cervical DREZ lesioning.
Methods. Forty-three Sprague—Dawley rats were subjected to total deafferentation of the right cervical dorsal horn by performing a posterior rhizotomy from C-5 to T-1. The clinical effects of this deafferentation, namely self-directed mutilations consisting of scraping and/or ulceration of the forelimb skin or even autotomy of some forelimb digits, were then evaluated. As soon as some of these clinical signs of pain appeared, the authors performed a microsurgical DREZ rhizotomy ([MDR], microincision along the deafferented DREZ and dorsal horn). Before and after MDR, single-unit recordings were obtained in the deafferented dorsal horn and in the contralateral (healthy) side. The mean frequency of spontaneous discharge from the deafferented dorsal horn neurons was significantly higher than that from the healthy side (36.4 Hz compared with 17.9 Hz, p = 0.03).
After deafferentation, 81.4% of the rats developed clinical signs corresponding to pain following posterior rhizotomy. Among these animals, scraping was observed in 85.7% of cases, ulceration (associated with edema) in 37.1%, and autotomy in 8.5%. These signs appeared a mean 5.7 weeks (range 1–12 weeks) after deafferentation.
Thirteen rats benefited from an MDR; nine (69%) experienced a complete cure, that is, a total resolution of scraping or ulceration (a mean 4.6 weeks after MDR). In contrast, only one of 11 sham-operated animals showed signs of spontaneous recovery (p = 0.01).
Conclusions. These results emphasize the role of the spinal dorsal horn in the genesis of deafferentation pain and suggest that dorsal horn deafferentation by cervical posterior rhizotomy in the rat provides a reliable model of chronic pain due to brachial plexus avulsion and its suppression by MDR.