Several studies have shown that the mu opioid receptor (MOR) located in the peripheral nerves can be activated after nerve injury and that it attenuates peripheral nociceptive signals to the spinal dorsal horn. Various cytokines and phosphorylated-p38 (p-p38) activation in the dorsal horn also play an important role in neuropathic pain development. Granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (GCSF) is a growth factor that can stimulate granulocyte formation and has been shown to exert an analgesic effect on neuropathic pain through recruiting opioid-containing leukocytes to the injured nerve. However, the underlying mechanisms are not well understood. Herein, the results of behavior tests in addition to MOR levels in the injured sciatic nerve and the levels of p-p38 and various cytokines in the spinal dorsal horn were studied in vehicle-treated or GCSF-treated chronic constriction injured (CCI) rats at different time points (i.e., 1, 3, and 7 days, respectively) after nerve injury. The results showed that a single early systemic GCSF treatment after nerve injury can up-regulate MORs in the injured nerve, which can decrease peripheral nociceptive signals. Thereafter, those changes suppress the pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-6 but enhance the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-4, followed by decreases in p-p38 in the dorsal horn, and thus further attenuate neuropathic pain.
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