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J Pain Res. 2018 Feb 7;11:281-291. doi: 10.2147/JPR.S156326. eCollection 2018.

The effect of exercise frequency on neuropathic pain and pain-related cellular reactions in the spinal cord and midbrain in a rat sciatic nerve injury model.

Author information

Course of Physical Therapy, School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Kagoshima University, Kagoshima, Japan.
Kirishima Orthopedics, Kirishima, Japan.
Division of Brain Science, Department of Physiology, Kurume University School of Medicine, Kurume, Japan.



Exercise regimens are established methods that can relieve neuropathic pain. However, the relationship between frequency and intensity of exercise and multiple cellular responses of exercise-induced alleviation of neuropathic pain is still unclear. We examined the influence of exercise frequency on neuropathic pain and the intracellular responses in a sciatic nerve chronic constriction injury (CCI) model.

Materials and methods:

Rats were assigned to four groups as follows: CCI and high-frequency exercise (HFE group), CCI and low-frequency exercise (LFE group), CCI and no exercise (No-Ex group), and naive animals (control group). Rats ran on a treadmill, at a speed of 20 m/min, for 30 min, for 5 (HFE) or 3 (LFE) days a week, for a total of 5 weeks. The 50% withdrawal threshold was evaluated for mechanical sensitivity. The activation of glial cells (microglia and astrocytes), expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and μ-opioid receptor in the spinal dorsal horn and endogenous opioid in the midbrain were examined using immunohistochemistry. Opioid receptor antagonists (naloxone) were administered using intraperitoneal injection.


The development of neuropathic pain was related to the activation of glial cells, increased BDNF expression, and downregulation of the μ-opioid receptor in the ipsilateral spinal dorsal horn. In the No-Ex group, neuropathic pain showed the highest level of mechanical hypersensitivity at 2 weeks, which improved slightly until 5 weeks after CCI. In both exercise groups, the alleviation of neuropathic pain was accelerated through the regulation of glial activation, BDNF expression, and the endogenous opioid system. The expression of BDNF and endogenous opioid in relation to exercise-induced alleviation of neuropathic pain differed in the HFE and LFE groups. The effects of exercise-induced alleviation of mechanical hypersensitivity were reversed by the administration of naloxone.


The LFE and HFE program reduced neuropathic pain. Our findings indicated that aerobic exercise-induced alleviated neuropathic pain through the regulation of glial cell activation, expression of BDNF in the ipsilateral spinal dorsal horn, and the endogenous opioid system.


endogenous opioid; exercise; glial cells; neuropathic pain; rehabilitation

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