The endogenous opioid enkephalin is known to inhibit spinal nociceptive transmission. Here we investigated activation of spinal enkephalinergic neurons by determining the proportions of c-Fos expressing (activated) spinal neurons that were enkephalinergic after different acute and chronic peripheral nociceptive stimuli. The number of c-Fos-activated neurons in the dorsal horn was increased after hind paw injection of capsaicin, formalin or complete Freund's adjuvant (CFA, 1.5 hrs - 4 days). The numbers of these neurons that were enkephalinergic increased after paraformaldehyde, and at 20 hrs, but not 1.5 hrs or 4 days post-CFA as compared to saline. In the spared nerve injury (SNI) model of neuropathic pain, c-Fos expression was increased acutely (2 hrs) and chronically (2 weeks), and a greater number of these were enkephalinergic in the nerve-injured animals acutely compared to controls (sham-SNI). Combining all acute (=2 hrs) versus chronic (≥20 hrs) treatment groups, there was a significant decrease in the percentage of activated neurons that were enkephalinergic in superficial layers, but a significant increase in the deeper layers of the dorsal horn in the chronic treatment group. It is concluded that the overall percentage of c-Fos activated neurons that contained enkephalin was not significantly different between acute and chronic pain phases. However, the shift in localization of these neurons within the spinal dorsal horn indicates a noxious stimulus directed activation pattern.

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Brain Research
Department of Neuroscience

Hossaini, S.M, Duraku, L.S, Kohli, S.K, Jongen, J.L.M, & Holstege, J.C. (2014). Spinal distribution of c-Fos activated neurons expressing enkephalin in acute and chronic pain models. Brain Research, 1543, 83–92. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2013.10.044