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Pain. 1995 Jun;61(3):383-90.

Noxious stimuli induce an N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor-dependent hypersensitivity of the flexion withdrawal reflex to touch: implications for the treatment of mechanical allodynia.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, University College London, UK.


Primary C-fiber afferents can induce a state of increased excitability in spinal cord neurons amplifying their responsiveness to noxious and innocuous stimuli--the phenomenon of central sensitization. We have examined whether the hypersensitivity to low-intensity stimuli (mechanical allodynia) evoked by C-afferent conditioning inputs is NMDA receptor dependent. The enhancement by C-afferent conditioning stimuli of the normally low or absent cutaneous touch-evoked responses of posterior biceps femoris/semitendinosus flexor motoneurons in the decerebrate-spinal rat has been used as a model of touch-evoked allodynia. Three different noxious conditioning stimuli (electrical stimulation of the sural nerve at C-fiber strength, cutaneous application of mustard oil and the intramuscular (i.m.) injection of bradykinin) enhanced touch-evoked responses and decreased the threshold of the flexor reflex to mechanical stimulation. Intrathecal (i.t.) injections of NMDA (20 pmol) produced a similar effect. A non-competitive NMDA antagonist MK 801, administered prior to the conditioning input at doses that did not modify the baseline reflex, significantly attenuated both the enhancement of touch-evoked responses and the threshold decrease following the noxious conditioning stimuli. Treatment with MK 801 some time after the conditioning input when the mechanical hypersensitivity is fully established, also reduced the increased touch-evoked responses. The reduction in threshold and the increase in touch responsiveness induced by cutaneous and muscle noxious C-fiber conditioning stimuli in the rat spinal cord are, therefore, both prevented and reversed by NMDA receptor antagonism. NMDA antagonists may be potentially useful, therefore, in treating postinjury pain hypersensitivity.

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