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Arthritis Rheum. 2012 Jul;64(7):2223-32. doi: 10.1002/art.34385.

Neuroplasticity of sensory and sympathetic nerve fibers in a mouse model of a painful arthritic joint.

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Minneapolis VA Medical Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.



Many forms of arthritis are accompanied by significant chronic joint pain. This study was undertaken to investigate whether there is significant sprouting of sensory and sympathetic nerve fibers in the painful arthritic knee joint and whether nerve growth factor (NGF) drives this pathologic reorganization.


A painful arthritic knee joint was produced by injection of Freund's complete adjuvant (CFA) into the knee joint of young adult mice. CFA-injected mice were then treated systemically with vehicle or anti-NGF antibody. Pain behaviors were assessed, and at 28 days following the initial CFA injection, the knee joints were processed for immunohistochemistry analysis using antibodies against calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP; sensory nerve fibers), neurofilament 200 kd (NF200; sensory nerve fibers), growth-associated protein 43 (GAP-43; sprouted nerve fibers), tyrosine hydroxylase (TH; sympathetic nerve fibers), CD31 (endothelial cells), or CD68 (monocyte/macrophages).


In CFA-injected mice, there was a significant increase in the density of CD68+ macrophages, CD31+ blood vessels, and CGRP+, NF200+, GAP-43+, and TH+ nerve fibers in the synovium, as well as a significant increase in joint pain-related behaviors. None of these findings were observed in sham-injected mice. Administration of anti-NGF reduced these pain-related behaviors and the ectopic sprouting of nerve fibers, but had no significant effect on the increase in density of CD31+ blood vessels or CD68+ macrophages.


These findings demonstrate that ectopic sprouting of sensory and sympathetic nerve fibers occurs in the painful arthritic joint and may be involved in the generation and maintenance of arthritic pain.

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