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Pain. 2019 Dec;160(12):2855-2865. doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001662.

Autoantibodies produce pain in complex regional pain syndrome by sensitizing nociceptors.

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Wolfson Centre for Age-Related Diseases, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, London, United Kingdom.
Pain Research Institute, University of Liverpool, Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust, Liverpool, United Kingdom.


Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a posttraumatic pain condition with an incompletely understood pathophysiological basis. Here, we have examined the cellular basis of pain in CRPS using behavioral and electrophysiological methods in mice treated with IgG from CRPS patients, in combination with a paw incision. Mice were subjected to a hind paw skin-muscle incision alone, or in combination with administration of IgG purified from either healthy control subjects or patients with persistent CRPS. Nociceptive function was examined behaviorally in vivo, and electrophysiologically in vitro using skin-nerve preparations to study the major classes of mechanosensitive single units. Administration of IgG from CRPS patients exacerbated and prolonged the postsurgical hypersensitivity to noxious mechanical, cold, and heat stimulation, but did not influence tactile sensitivity after a paw incision. Studies of IgG preparations pooled from patient cohorts (n = 26-27) show that pathological autoantibodies are present in the wider population of patients with persistent CRPS, and that patients with more severe pain have higher effective autoantibody titres than patients with moderate pain intensity. Electrophysiological investigation of skin-nerve preparations from mice treated with CRPS IgG from a single patient identified both a significantly increased evoked impulse activity in A and C nociceptors, and an increased spontaneous impulse rate in the intact saphenous nerve. Our results show that painful hypersensitivity in persistent CRPS is maintained by autoantibodies, which act by sensitizing A and C nociceptors.

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