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Brain Res. 1999 Apr 17;825(1-2):59-67.

Microglial reactions after subcutaneous formalin injection into the rat hind paw.

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Dental Research Center, School of Dentistry, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA.


Microglia in primary afferent projection territories are activated and proliferate after peripheral nerve injury. However, it is not known whether stimulation of peripheral nerves by noxious stimuli applied to their receptive fields activates microglial cells in the spinal cord. This study was designed to investigate the response of microglia in the lumbar spinal cord and in the brainstem to a tonic noxious stimulus. Thirty-two male Sprague-Dawley rats received subcutaneous injections of 5% formalin (50 microliter) into the plantar surface of the right hind paw, and 24 rats were injected with 50 microliter saline as a control. The lumbar spinal cord and brainstem were evaluated for immunoreactivity (IR) to complement receptor C3bi (monoclonal antibody OX-42) and major histocompatibility complex class II (monoclonal antibody OX-6) on postinjection hours 0, 2, 4 and 8 and days 1, 3, 7, 14 and 28. A qualitative and quantitative increase of OX-42-IR microglial cells were observed in the medial portion of the dorsal horn and in the gracile nucleus of the brainstem on the side ipsilateral to the formalin injection, starting on days 1-3 and peaking on day 7 postinjection. OX-6-positive cells were scattered both in gray and white matter, but no difference was detected between the two sides of the spinal cord or between formalin-injected and control animals. This is the first study that reports that subcutaneous injection of formalin into the rat's hind paw induces microglial activation in the spinal cord as well as in the brainstem. Although we have not determined whether these responses result from nociceptor activity, peripheral inflammation, or degeneration of primary afferents and/or central neurons, this method provides a simple, effective and stable animal model that will permit the future study of the mechanisms that contribute to microglial activation and its pathophysiological consequences.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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