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J Comp Neurol. 1996 Dec 9;376(2):241-52.

Sympathetic sprouting in the dorsal root ganglia of the injured peripheral nerve in a rat neuropathic pain model.

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Marine Biomedical Institute, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston 77555-1069, USA.


The extent of the sprouting of sympathetic postganglionic fibers in the dorsal root ganglion (DRG) and the peripheral nerves was examined in neuropathic rats at different postoperative times. After the L5 and L6 spinal nerves were ligated on one side, three different pain behavior tests (representing mechanical allodynia, cold allodynia, ongoing pain exacerbated by cold stress) were performed at various time intervals. The sympathetic postganglionic fibers were visualized by immunostaining with antibodies to tyrosine hydroxylase (TH). In the neuropathic rats, all three pain behaviors were fully developed within 3 days after the surgery, maintained up to 2 weeks, and then started to decline gradually afterward. At 20 weeks after neuropathic surgery, pain behaviors were reduced significantly compared to the peak response, but were still higher than the presurgery levels. Sympathectomy, performed 4 days after neuropathic surgery, almost completely abolished the signs of mechanical allodynia and ongoing pain behaviors, and it reduced the behaviors of cold allodynia to approximately half. The numerical density of sympathetic fibers in the DRG of an injured segment was significantly higher at 1, 4, and 20 weeks after neuropathic surgery as compared to the normal, suggesting that there is sprouting of sympathetic fibers in the DRG after peripheral nerve injury. Sprouting of sympathetic fibers in the DRG was extensive as early as 2 days after the spinal nerve ligation, and the sprouted fibers were almost completely eliminated after sympathectomy. The data suggest that sympathetic innervation of the DRG may play an important role in the development and maintenance of sympathetically maintained neuropathic pain.

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