Sympathetic signaling contributes to the upregulation of cutaneous interleukin-6 with subsequent nociceptive sensitization in a rat tibia fracture model of complex regional pain syndrome.
In many patients, the sympathetic nervous system supports pain and other features of complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). Accumulating evidence suggests that interleukin (IL)-6 also plays a role in CRPS, and that catecholamines stimulate production of IL-6 in several tissues. We hypothesized that norepinephrine acting through specific adrenergic receptors expressed on keratinocytes stimulates the production of IL-6 and leads to nociceptive sensitization in a rat tibial fracture/cast model of CRPS. Our approach involved catecholamine depletion using 6-hydroxydopamine or, alternatively, guanethidine, to explore sympathetic contributions. Both agents substantially reduced nociceptive sensitization and selectively reduced the production of IL-6 in skin. Antagonism of IL-6 signaling using TB-2-081 also reduced sensitization in this model. Experiments using a rat keratinocyte cell line demonstrated relatively high levels of β2-adrenergic receptor (β2-AR) expression. Stimulation of this receptor greatly enhanced IL-6 expression when compared to the expression of IL-1β, tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, or nerve growth factor. Stimulation of the cells also promoted phosphorylation of the mitogen-activated protein kinases P38, extracellular signal-regulated kinase, and c-Jun amino-terminal kinase. Based on these in vitro results, we returned to animal testing and observed that the selective β2-AR antagonist butoxamine reduced nociceptive sensitization in the CRPS model, and that local injection of the selective β2-AR agonist terbutaline resulted in mechanical allodynia and the production of IL-6 in the cells of the skin. No increases in IL-1β, TNF-α, or nerve growth factor levels were seen, however. These data suggest that in CRPS, norepinephrine released from sympathetic nerve terminals stimulates β2-ARs expressed on epidermal keratinocytes, resulting in local IL-6 production, and ultimately, pain sensitization.