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Brain Res. 2012 Jun 21;1461:51-63. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2012.04.026. Epub 2012 Apr 21.

Whiplash-like facet joint loading initiates glutamatergic responses in the DRG and spinal cord associated with behavioral hypersensitivity.

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  • 1Department of Bioengineering, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


The cervical facet joint and its capsule are a common source of neck pain from whiplash. Mechanical hyperalgesia elicited by painful facet joint distraction is associated with spinal neuronal hyperexcitability that can be induced by transmitter/receptor systems that potentiate the synaptic activation of neurons. This study investigated the temporal response of a glutamate receptor and transporters in the dorsal root ganglia (DRG) and spinal cord. Bilateral C6/C7 facet joint distractions were imposed in the rat either to produce behavioral sensitivity or without inducing any sensitivity. Neuronal metabotropic glutamate receptor-5 (mGluR5) and protein kinase C-epsilon (PKCε) expression in the DRG and spinal cord were evaluated on days 1 and 7. Spinal expression of a glutamate transporter, excitatory amino acid carrier 1 (EAAC1), was also quantified at both time points. Painful distraction produced immediate behavioral hypersensitivity that was sustained for 7 days. Increased expression of mGluR5 and PKCε in the DRG was not evident until day 7 and only following painful distraction; this increase was observed in small-diameter neurons. Only painful facet joint distraction produced a significant increase (p<0.001) in neuronal mGluR5 over time, and this increase also was significantly elevated (p≤0.05) over responses in the other groups at day 7. However, there were no differences in spinal PKCε expression on either day or between groups. Spinal EAAC1 expression was significantly increased (p<0.03) only in the nonpainful groups on day 7. Results from this study suggest that spinal glutamatergic plasticity is selectively modulated in association with facet-mediated pain.

Copyright © 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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