Herniation of the nucleus pulposus (NP) from lumbar intervertebral discs commonly results in radiculopathic pain possibly through a neuroinflammatory response. NP sensitizes dorsal horn neuronal responses, but it is unknown whether this reflects a central or peripheral sensitization. To study central sensitization, we tested if NP enhances windup-the progressive increase in the response of a nociceptive spinal neuron to repeated electrical C-fiber stimulation-a phenomenon that may partly account for temporal summation of pain. Single-unit recordings were made from wide dynamic range (WDR; n = 36) or nociceptive-specific (NS; n = 8) L5 dorsal horn neurons, in 44 isoflurane-anesthetized rats. Subcutaneous electrodes delivered electrical stimuli (20 pulses, 3 times the C-fiber threshold, 0.5 ms) to the receptive field on the hindpaw. Autologous NP was harvested from a tail disc and placed onto the L5 dorsal root ganglion after recording of baseline responses (n = 22). Controls had saline applied similarly (n = 22). Electrical stimulus trains (0.1, 0.3, and 1 Hz; 5-min interstimulus interval) were repeated every 30 min for 3-6 h after each treatment. The total number of evoked spikes (summed across all 20 stimuli) to 0.1 Hz was enhanced 3 h after NP, mainly in the after-discharge (AD) period (latency > 400 ms). Total responses to 0.3 and 1.0 Hz were also enhanced at ≥60 min after NP in both the C-fiber (100- to 400-ms latency) and AD periods, whereas the absolute windup (C-fiber + AD - 20 times the initial response) increased at ≥90 min after treatment. In saline controls, windup was not enhanced at any time after treatment for any stimulus frequency, although there was a trend toward enhancement at 0.3 Hz. These results are consistent with NP-induced central sensitization. Mechanical responses were not significantly enhanced after saline or NP treatment. We speculate that inflammatory agents released from (or recruited by) NP affect the dorsal root ganglion (and/or are transported to cord) to enhance primary afferent excitation of nociceptive dorsal horn neurons.
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