INVESTIGATING THE EFFECTS OF PERIPHERAL NERVE INJURY ON δ OPIOID RECEPTOR EXPRESSION AND FUNCTION: IMPLICATIONS FOR THE TREATMENT OF CHRONIC NEUROPATHIC PAIN
MetadataShow full item record
Neuropathic (NP) pain is a debilitating chronic pain disorder that is a challenge to diagnose and an even greater challenge to treat. Commonly described as burning or shock-like, NP pain is characteristically resistant to traditional analgesic therapy. This thesis project aimed to investigate the potential therapeutic benefit of delta opioid receptor (δOR)-selective agonists in the management of NP pain. In the current experiments, rats that underwent unilateral sciatic nerve injury displayed characteristic behavioural manifestations including cold and thermal hyperalgesia as well as tactile allodynia in the ipsilateral hind paw. The spinal administration of DLT, a δOR-selective agonist, dose-dependently reversed tactile allodynia in NP rats and attenuated cold and thermal hypersensitivities. Moreover, DLT produced greater antinociceptive effects in NP rats compared with controls in the cold water paw withdrawal, hot water tail flick, and thermal plantar box tests. Nerve injury-induced augmentation in δOR function was dependent on nociceptive afferents, since the effect was absent in NP rats that received neonatal treatment with capsaicin. Furthermore, it was not due to increased δOR biosynthesis as western blots and immunohistochemistry revealed no change in spinal δOR protein. We hypothesized that an alternative mechanism, such as redistribution of receptors within the neuron, may underlie δOR function changes. Using immunogold electron microscopy, we showed that nerve injury indeed increased the cell surface expression of δORs within dendritic profiles of the dorsal horn via redistribution of existing receptors. Interestingly, this event was observed bilaterally in the deep dorsal horn, with no effect in the superficial laminae. The mechanisms underlying nerve injury-induced δOR trafficking remain unclear however we may take cues from other δOR trafficking events. We showed that concomitant treatment of rats with morphine and a glial inhibitor prevented both the activation of spinal glia and the changes in δOR agonist effects observed with morphine alone, suggesting that glial activity contributes to morphine-induced δOR trafficking in vivo and may provide insight into the mechanisms underlying nerve injury-induced δOR trafficking. Collectively, these studies reveal an important role of δORs in modulating pain symptoms associated with nerve injury, supporting further exploration of δORs as novel therapeutic targets in the treatment of NP pain.