BACKGROUND: Acute postoperative pain causes physiological deficits and slows recovery. Reduction of such pain by local anesthetics that are delivered for several days postoperatively is a desirable clinical objective, which is approached by a new formulation and applied in animal studies reported here.
METHODS: We subcutaneously injected a new formulation of poly-lactic-co-glycolic acid polymer microspheres, which provides steady drug release for 96+ hours into rats at the dorsal region 2 hours before surgery. A single 1.2-cm-long skin incision was followed by blunt dissection of skin away from the underlying fascia, and closed by 2 sutures, followed by 14 days of testing. Microspheres containing 5, 10, 20, and 40 mg bupivacaine were injected locally 2 hours before surgery; bupivacaine-free microspheres were the vehicle control, and bupivacaine HCl solution (0.5%), the positive control. Mechanical sensitivity was determined by the frequency of local muscle contractions to repeated pokes with nylon monofilaments (von Frey hairs) exerting 4 and 15 g forces, testing, respectively, allodynia and hyperalgesia, and by pinprick.
RESULTS: Injection of bupivacaine microspheres (40 mg drug) into intact skin reduced responses to 15 g von Frey hairs for 6 hours and to pinprick for 36 hours. Respective reductions from bupivacaine HCl lasted for 3 and 2 hours. Skin incision and dissection alone caused mechanical allodynia and hyperalgesia for 14 days. Microspheres containing 20 or 40 mg bupivacaine suppressed postoperative hypersensitivity for up to 3 days, reduced integrated allodynia (area under curve of response versus time) over postoperative days 1 to 5 by 51% ± 20% (mean ± SE) and 78% ± 12%, and reduced integrated hyperalgesia by 55% ± 13% and 64% ± 11%, for the respective doses. Five and ten milligrams bupivacaine in microspheres and the 0.5% bupivacaine solution were ineffective in reducing postoperative hypersensitivity, as were 40 mg bupivacaine microspheres injected contralateral to the incision.
CONCLUSIONS: Significant suppression of postoperative pain by the slow-release bupivacaine preparation outlasts its anesthetic action on intact skin. These findings demonstrate preventive analgesia and indicate the importance of acute processes in the development of chronic postoperative pain.