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Bone. 2010 Feb;46(2):306-13. doi: 10.1016/j.bone.2009.09.013. Epub 2009 Sep 18.

A phenotypically restricted set of primary afferent nerve fibers innervate the bone versus skin: therapeutic opportunity for treating skeletal pain.

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Department of Pharmacology, College of Medicine, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85724, USA.

Erratum in

  • Bone. 2010 Jun;46(6):1670-1.


Although musculoskeletal pain is one of the most common causes of chronic pain and physical disability in both developing and developed countries, relatively little is known about the nerve fibers and mechanisms that drive skeletal pain. Small diameter sensory nerve fibers, most of which are C-fiber nociceptors, can be separated into two broad populations: the peptide-rich and peptide-poor nerve fibers. Peptide-rich nerve fibers express substance P (SP) and calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP). In contrast, the peptide-poor nerve fibers bind to isolectin B4 (IB(4)) and express the purinergic receptor P(2)X(3) and Mas-related G protein-coupled receptor member d (Mrgprd). In the present report, we used mice in which the Mrgprd(+) nerve fibers express genetically encoded axonal tracers to determine the peptide-rich and peptide-poor sensory nerve fibers that innervate the glabrous skin of the hindpaw as compared to the bone marrow, mineralized bone and periosteum of the femur. Whereas the skin is richly innervated by CGRP(+), SP(+), P(2)X(3)(+) and Mrgprd(+) sensory nerve fibers, the bone marrow, mineralized bone and periosteum receive a significant innervation by SP(+) and CGRP(+), but not Mrgprd(+) and P(2)X(3)(+) nerve fibers. This lack of redundancy in the populations of C-fibers that innervate the bone may present a unique therapeutic opportunity for targeting skeletal pain as the peptide-rich and peptide-poor sensory nerve fibers generally express a different repertoire of receptors and channels to detect noxious stimuli. Thus, therapies that target the specific types of C-nerve fibers that innervate the bone may be uniquely effective in attenuating skeletal pain as compared to skin pain.

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