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Brain. 2012 Feb;135(Pt 2):359-75. doi: 10.1093/brain/awr345. Epub 2012 Jan 23.

Reduced conduction failure of the main axon of polymodal nociceptive C-fibres contributes to painful diabetic neuropathy in rats.

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Institute of Neuroscience, Fourth Military Medical University, Xi'an 710032, PR China.


Painful diabetic neuropathy is a common complication of diabetes mellitus and can affect many aspects of life and severely limit patients' daily functions. Signals of painful diabetic neuropathy are believed to originate in the peripheral nervous system. However, its peripheral mechanism of hyperalgesia has remained elusive. Numerous studies have accumulated that polymodal nociceptive C-fibres play a crucial role in the generation and conduction of pain signals and sensitization of which following injury or inflammation leads to marked hyperalgesia. Traditionally, the number of nociceptive primary afferent firings is believed to be determined at the free nerve endings, while the extended main axon of unmyelinated C-fibres only involves the reliable and faithful propagation of firing series to the central terminals. We challenged this classic view by showing that conduction of action potential can fail to occur in response to repetitive activity when they travel down the main axon of polymodal nociceptive C-fibres. Quantitative analysis of conduction failure revealed that the degree of conduction failure displays a frequency-dependent manner. Local administration of low threshold, rapidly activating potassium current blocker, α-dendrotoxin (0.5 nM) and persistent sodium current blocker, low doses of tetrodotoxin (<100 nM) on the main axon of C-fibres can reciprocally regulate the degree of conduction failure, confirming that conduction failure did occur along the main axon of polymodal nociceptive C-fibres. Following streptozotocin-induced diabetes, a subset of polymodal nociceptive C-fibres exhibited high-firing-frequency to suprathreshold mechanical stimulation, which account for about one-third of the whole population of polymodal nociceptive C-fibres tested. These high-firing-frequency polymodal nociceptive C-fibres in rats with diabetes displayed a marked reduction of conduction failure. Delivery of low concentrations of tetrodotoxin and Nav1.8 selective blocker, A-803467 on the main axon of C-fibres was found to markedly enhance the conduction failure in a dose-dependent manner in diabetic rats. Upregulated expression of sodium channel subunits Nav1.7 and Nav1.8 in both small dorsal root ganglion neurons and peripheral C-fibres as well as enhanced transient and persistent sodium current and increased excitability in small dorsal root ganglion neurons from diabetic rats might underlie the reduced conduction failure in the diabetic high-firing-frequency polymodal nociceptive C-fibres. This study shed new light on the functional capability in the pain signals processing for the main axon of polymodal nociceptive C-fibres and revealed a novel mechanism underlying diabetic hyperalgesia.

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