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J Neurosci. 2003 May 15;23(10):4017-22.

p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase is activated after a spinal nerve ligation in spinal cord microglia and dorsal root ganglion neurons and contributes to the generation of neuropathic pain.

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Neural Plasticity Research Group, Department of Anesthesia and Critical Care, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02129, USA.


The possible involvement of p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase activation in spinal cord and dorsal root ganglion (DRG) cells in the development of peripheral neuropathic pain has been explored. Ligation of the L5 spinal nerve (SNL) on one side in adult rats produces an early onset and long-lasting mechanical allodynia. This lesion results in activation of p38 in the L5 segment of the spinal cord, most prominently in the ipsilateral dorsal horn, starting soon after the lesion (<1 d) and persisting for >3 weeks. The activated p38 in the spinal cord is restricted entirely to microglia; phospho-p38 colocalizes only with the microglial marker OX-42 and not with either the neuronal marker neuronal-specific nuclear protein or the astrocyte marker GFAP. In contrast, SNL induces a delayed (>3 d) activation of p38 in the L5 DRG that occurs predominantly in neurons. Continuous injection of the p38 inhibitor 4-(4-fluorophenyl)-2-(4-methylsulfonylphenyl)-5-(4-pyridyl)-1H-imidazole (SB203580) via the intrathecal route, starting before the SNL surgery, reduces SNL-induced mechanical allodynia from day 1 to day 10, with maximal effects at early time points. Post-treatment with SB203580 starting on day 1 or on day 10 after surgery also reduces established mechanical allodynia. Because the reduction in neuropathic pain by p38 inhibition occurs before the appearance of p38 activation in DRG neurons, p38 activation in spinal cord microglia is likely to have a substantial role in the earliest phase of neuropathic pain. Coactivation of p38 in DRG neurons and spinal microglia may contribute to later phases of neuropathic pain.

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