Nerve damage can induce a heightened pain response to noxious stimulation, which is termed hyperalgesia. Pain itself acts as a stressor, initiating autonomic and sensory effects through the dorsal periaqueductal gray (dPAG) to induce both sympathoexcitation and analgesia, which prior studies have shown to be affected by endocannabinoid signaling. The present study addressed the hypothesis that neuropathic pain disrupts autonomic and analgesic regulation by endocannabinoid signaling in the dPAG. Endocannabinoid contents, transcript levels of endocannabinoid signaling components, and catabolic enzyme activity were analyzed in the dPAG of rats at 21 days after painful nerve injury. The responses to two nerve injury models were similar, with two-thirds of animals developing hyperalgesia that was maintained throughout the post injury period, while no sustained change in sensory function was observed in the remaining rats. Anandamide content was lower in the dPAG of rats that developed sustained hyperalgesia and activity of the catabolic enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) was higher. Intensity of hyperalgesia was correlated to transcript levels of FAAH and negatively correlated to heart rate and sympatho-vagal balance. These data suggest that maladaptive endocannabinoid signaling in the dPAG after nerve injury could contribute to chronic neuropathic pain and associated autonomic dysregulation. This study demonstrates that reduced anandamide content and upregulation of FAAH in the dPAG are associated with hyperalgesia and reduced heart rate sustained weeks after nerve injury. These data provide support for the evaluation of FAAH inhibitors for the treatment of chronic neuropathic pain.
- stress response
- neuropathic pain
- Copyright © 2017, American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology