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J Pain. 2007 May;8(5):443-51. Epub 2007 Mar 6.

Potentiation of nociceptive responses to low pH injections in humans by prostaglandin E2.

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  • 1Department of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care Medicine, Clinical Faculty Mannheim, University of Heidelberg, Mannheim, Germany.


Inflammation and trauma lead to tissue acidification and release of inflammatory mediators, including prostaglandin E2 (PGE2). Protons can evoke pain through acid-sensing ion channels (ASICs) and TRPV1 receptors. In this study, we examined whether PGE2 can potentiate proton-induced nociception in humans on injection into skin and muscle. Psychophysical and vascular responses to microinjections of protons (pH 6.0 and 6.5), PGE2 (10-6 and 10-7 M) and their combinations into forearm skin (30 microL) or anterior tibial muscle (50 microL) were assessed in 16 male subjects. Pain intensity, axon reflex erythema, and heat pain thresholds were recorded after skin challenge; pain intensity and thresholds for pressure-evoked pain were recorded after intramuscular injections. Intradermal or intramuscular injections of PGE2 induced very low levels of pain similar to saline. Administration of low pH caused moderate pain within 5 seconds that declined rapidly over 15 to 20 seconds. In comparison, coinjection of low pH with PGE2 led to a biphasic profile of the pain response. Combined pH + PGE2 stimulation provoked significantly increased pain in the second phase after injections (20 to 100 seconds) both in skin and muscle, whereas the initial injection pain was not enhanced. Heat pain thresholds were reduced after PGE2 and combined pH + PGE2, whereas flare responses were rather attenuated on coadministration of low pH with PGE2. Intriguingly, when compared with skin, muscle pain was significantly lower in the initial phase (0 to 15 seconds) but significantly higher in the second phase (20 to 100 seconds after injection).


PGE2 can potentiate nociceptor activation by protons in human skin and muscle, indicated by increased sustained pain ratings. This can be best explained by TRPV1 sensitization in the presence of PGE2, a mechanism potentially relevant for inflammatory and injury-induced pain.

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