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Int J Mol Med. 2018 Jun;41(6):3307-3315. doi: 10.3892/ijmm.2018.3563. Epub 2018 Mar 13.

Effect of electro-acupuncture on the BDNF-TrkB pathway in the spinal cord of CCI rats.

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Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, The Second Affiliated Hospital and Yuying Children's Hospital of Wenzhou Medical University, Wenzhou, Zhejiang 325027, P.R. China.
Department of Rehabilitation, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York, NY 10016, USA.
Department of Specialty Medicine, Ohio University, Athens, OH 45701, USA.
Protein Quality Control and Diseases Laboratory, Attardi Institute of Mitochondrial Biomedicine, School of Life Sciences, Wenzhou Medical University, Wenzhou, Zhejiang 325035, P.R. China.


Microglia, which comprise a sensor for pathological events in the central nervous system, may be triggered by nerve injury and transformed from a quiescent state into an activated state; ionised calcium binding adaptor molecule 1 (Iba1) is a sensitive marker associated with activated microglia. Accumulated evidence suggests that spinal activated microglia and the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)-tyrosine kinase receptor B (TrkB) signalling pathway play major roles in the production and development of neuropathic pain. Electro-acupuncture (EA) has a positive effect on relieving chronic neuropathic pain; however, the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. To determine the significance of EA in the treatment of neuropathic pain mediated by activated microglia and the BDNF-TrkB signalling pathway in the spinal cord, the mechanical withdrawal threshold (MWT) and thermal withdrawal latency (TWL) values were recorded to assess hyperalgesia and allodynia. In addition, the amount of activated microglia and BDNF were assessed via immunofluorescence. Iba1, BDNF and TrkB mRNA expression levels were examined using qPCR; the protein levels of BDNF, p-TrkB and TrkB in the spinal cord were analysed via western blotting. The present study demonstrated that EA treatment increased the MWT and TWL values. EA significantly inhibited the proportion of activated microglia and BDNF expression in the spinal cord after chronic constrictive injury (CCI). Furthermore, EA decreased the expression of BDNF and TrkB at both the mRNA and protein levels in the spinal cord of CCI rats. These findings suggest that the analgesic effect of EA may be achieved by inhibiting the activation of spinal microglia and subsequently blocking the BDNF-TrkB signalling pathway.

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