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Scand J Pain. 2016 Jan;10:90-102. doi: 10.1016/j.sjpain.2015.10.006. Epub 2015 Nov 20.

Analgesic properties of intrathecal glucocorticoids in three well established preclinical pain models.

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Pain Clinic, Department of Anesthesiology, University Medical Center Utrecht, The Netherlands. Electronic address:
Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.
Pain Clinic, Department of Anesthesiology, University Medical Center Utrecht, The Netherlands.
Department of Anesthesiology, University of California, San Diego, USA.



Glucocorticoids, a group of anti-inflammatory agents, are frequently administered in pain medicine. Of interest is the reported activity after intrathecal delivery in patients with neuropathic pain syndromes such as postherpetic neuralgia, though its efficacy is controversial. After the publication of two randomized clinical trials in postherpetic neuralgia patients treated with similar intrathecal methylprednisolone acetate (MPA) dosing regimes with conflicting results; one showing significant pain reduction (Kotani N, Kushikata T, Hashimoto H, Kimura F, Muraoka M, Yodono M, Asai M, Matsuki A: Intrathecal methylprednisolone for intractable postherpetic neuralgia. N Engl J Med 2000;23: 1514-9), the other increased pain sensations (Rijsdijk M, van Wijck AJ, Meulenhoff PC, Kavelaars A, van der Tweel I, Kalkman CJ: No beneficial effect of intrathecal methylprednisolone acetate in postherpetic neuralgia patients. Eur J Pain 2013;38: 175-200), we decided additional research was warranted. Present study sought to determine effects of intrathecally delivered methylprednisolone on pain-like behaviour and pain-associated markers in three well established rodent pain models: (1) intraplantar carrageenan, (2) intraplantar formalin, and (3) ligation of L5/L6 spinal nerves (SNL model).


Male rats with intrathecal catheters were examined for (1) tactile allodynia after unilateral hindpaw intraplantar carrageenan injection (2%), (2) flinching and subsequent long term tactile allodynia after unilateral hindpaw intraplantar formalin injection (2.5%) or (3) tactile allodynia after unilateral ligation of the L5 and L6 spinal nerves. Rats were treated with the maximum tolerable intrathecal dose of the soluble methylprednisolone sodium succinate (MP) or the particulate methylprednisolone acetate (MPA). Dorsal root ganglia and spinal cords were harvested for immunohistochemistry to assess markers of neuronal damage (ATF3) and glial activation (GFAP, Iba1).


During dose finding, severe generalized allodynia was observed with high intrathecal doses of both MPA and MP in naive rats. MPA had no effect upon tactile allodynia after carrageenan. MP and MPA did not reverse tactile allodynia in the SNL model, and did not reduce flinching in the formalin model. MP and MPA prevented the delayed (7-day) tactile allodynia otherwise observed in the formalin-injected paw. Systemic MP or perineural MP or MPA did not reduce pain-like behaviour in the SNL model. No reduction of neuronal injury (ATF3) in the dorsal root ganglion or astrocyte activation (GFAP) in the spinal dorsal horn with intrathecal MP or MPA was observed. There was a decrease in microglial activation (Iba1) in the spinal dorsal horn with MPA after SNL.


Severe generalized allodynia was observed after high intrathecal doses of MP and MPA in naive rats. No acute analgesic effects with intrathecal glucocorticoids were observed in three well established pain models. Only a late antiallodynic effect was present in the formalin model, 7 days after formalin injection and drug treatment.


Our results do not support use of intrathecal methylprednisolone in the treatment of pain.


Efficacy; Intrathecal; Methylprednisolone; Neuropathic pain; Rats

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