Previous studies have shown that the peripheral nerve regeneration process is linked to pain in several neuropathic pain models. Other studies show that sympathetic blockade may relieve pain in some pain models and clinical conditions. This study examined reduction in peripheral nerve regeneration as one possible mechanism for relief of neuropathic pain by sympathetic blockade. A “microsympathectomy,” consisting of cutting the gray rami containing sympathetic postganglionic axons where they enter the L4 and L5 spinal nerves, reduced mechanical hypersensitivity in 2 different rat neuropathic pain models. In the spinal nerve ligation model, in which some functional regeneration and reinnervation of the ligated spinal nerve can be observed, microsympathectomy reduced functional and anatomical measures of regeneration as well as expression of growth-associated protein 43 (GAP43), a regeneration-related protein. In the spared nerve injury model, in which functional reinnervation is not possible and the futile regeneration process results in formation of a neuroma, microsympathectomy reduced neuroma formation and GAP43 expression. In both models, microsympathectomy reduced macrophage density in the sensory ganglia and peripheral nerve. This corroborates previous work showing that sympathetic nerves may locally affect immune function. The results further highlight the challenge of improving pain in neuropathic conditions without inhibiting peripheral nerve regeneration that might otherwise be possible and desired.

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PubMed