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Pain. 2003 Dec;106(3):241-51.

Interferon-gamma induces characteristics of central sensitization in spinal dorsal horn neurons in vitro.

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Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, SE-171 77, Stockholm, Sweden.


Hyperexcitability of spinal dorsal horn neurons, also known as 'central sensitization', is a component of pain associated with pathological conditions in the nervous system. The aim of the present study was to analyze if the pro-inflammatory cytokine, interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), which can be released for extended periods of time in the nervous system during inflammatory and infectious events, can alter synaptic activity in dorsal horn neurons and thereby contribute to such hyperexcitability. Treatment of cultured dorsal horn neurons with IFN-gamma for 2 weeks resulted in a significantly reduced clustering of alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methylisoxazole (AMPA) receptor subunit 1 (GluR1) that was dependent on nitric oxide. The neurons displayed an increased frequency and amplitude of excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) upon IFN-gamma treatment. Treated dorsal horn neurons also exhibited increased responsiveness to stimulation of dorsal root ganglia (DRG) axons in a two-compartment model. Furthermore, disinhibition by the GABA(A) receptor antagonist picrotoxin (PTX) significantly increased EPSC frequency and induced bursting in untreated cultures but did not significantly increase the frequency in treated neurons, which displayed bursting even without PTX. GABA(A) agonists reduced activity more strongly in treated cultures and immunochemical staining for GABA(A) receptors showed no difference from controls. Since GluR1-containing AMPA receptors (AMPARs) occur predominantly on inhibitory neurons in the dorsal horn, we suggest that the IFN-gamma-mediated increase in spontaneous activity and responsiveness to DRG axon stimulation, decrease in sensitivity to PTX and tendency for EPSC bursting result from a reduced expression of GluR1 on these neurons and not from a reduction in active GABA(A) receptors in the network. IFN-gamma thereby likely causes disinhibition of synaptic activity and primary afferent input in the dorsal horn, which consequently results in central sensitization.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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