Neuropathic pain and the inhibition of learning within the spinal cord
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Prior work from our laboratory has shown that the spinal cord is capable of supporting a simple form of instrumental (response-outcome) learning. In a typical experiment, animals are given a spinal transection at the second thoracic vertebra, and tested 24 h after surgery. If animals are given shock when their leg is in a resting position (controllable shock), they quickly learn to maintain the leg in a flexed position, thereby minimizing shock exposure. Animals exposed to shock that is independent of leg position (uncontrollable shock) fail to learn. This learning deficit can be induced by as little as 6 minutes of shock to either limb or to the tail, and lasts for up to 48 h. The aim of this dissertation was to explore whether the deficit shares behavioral features and pharmacological mechanisms similar to those involved in the induction of neuropathic pain. Work within the pain literature has identified a spinal hyperexcitability that is induced by intense stimulation of pain fibers. This phenomenon, known as central sensitization, is characterized by an increase in tactile reactivity (allodynia) that can be induced by shock or peripheral inflammation. Pharmacological findings have revealed that central sensitization depends on the activation of the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) and group I metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs). Experiment 1 showed that uncontrollable shock induces a tactile allodynia similar to that observed in central sensitization. Experiment 2 showed that peripheral inflammation caused by a subcutaneous injection of formalin generates a dose-dependent deficit. Experiment 3 indicated that the formalin-induced deficit was observed 24 h after delivery of the stimulus. Experiments 4-8 revealed that the NMDA and group I mGluRs are involved in the deficit. The NMDA receptor was found to be necessary (Experiment 4), but only sufficient to induce a deficit at neurotoxic doses (Experiment 5). Both of the group I mGluRs (subtypes, mGluR1 and mGluR5) were found to be necessary (Experiments 6 & 7). A general group I mGluR agonist summated with a subthreshold intensity of shock to produce a robust deficit (Experiment 8), suggesting shock and mGluR activation produce a deficit through a common mechanism.
Ferguson, Adam Richard (2006). Neuropathic pain and the inhibition of learning within the spinal cord. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Texas A&M University. Available electronically from