Intractable neuropathic pain often results from nerve injury. One immediate event in damaged nerve is a sustained increase in spontaneous afferent activity, which has a well-established role in ongoing pain. Using two rat models of neuropathic pain, the CCI and SNI models, we show that local, temporary nerve blockade of this afferent activity permanently inhibits the subsequent development of both thermal hyperalgesia and mechanical allodynia. Timing is critical—the nerve blockade must last at least 3–5 days and is effective if started immediately after nerve injury, but not if started at 10 days after injury when neuropathic pain is already established. Effective nerve blockade also prevents subsequent development of spontaneous afferent activity measured electrophysiologically. Similar results were obtained in both pain models, and with two blockade methods (200 mg of a depot form bupivacaine at the injury site, or perfusion of the injured nerve just proximal to the injury site with TTX). These results indicate that early spontaneous afferent fiber activity is the key trigger for the development of pain behaviors, and suggest that spontaneous activity may be required for many of the later changes in the sensory neurons, spinal cord, and brain observed in neuropathic pain models. Many pre-clinical and clinical studies of pre-emptive analgesia have used much shorter duration of blockade, or have not started immediately after the injury. Our results suggest that effective pre-emptive analgesia can be achieved only when nerve block is administered early after injury and lasts several days.
aDepartment of Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Anatomy, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, 3125 Eden Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45267-0521, USA
bDepartment of Anesthesiology, Physiology and Biophysics, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, 4301 W. Markham Street, Little Rock, AR 72205, USA
*Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 513 558 6098; fax: +1 513 558 3367.
Received 7 December 2004; received in revised form 19 February 2005; accepted 18 April 2005.