Chemotherapy-induced neuropathic pain is a serious adverse effect of chemotherapeutic agents. Clinical evidence suggests that stress is a risk factor for development and/or worsening of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). We evaluated the impact of stress and stress axis mediators on paclitaxel CIPN in male and female rats. Paclitaxel produced mechanical hyperalgesia, over the 4-day course of administration, peaking by day 7, and still present by day 28, with no significant difference between male and female rats. Paclitaxel hyperalgesia was enhanced in male and female rats previously exposed to unpredictable sound stress, but not in rats that were exposed to sound stress after developing paclitaxel CIPN. We evaluated the role of the neuroendocrine stress axes: in adrenalectomized rats, paclitaxel did not produce hyperalgesia. Intrathecal administration of antisense oligodeoxynucleotides (ODN) that reduced expression of β2-adrenergic receptors on nociceptors, paclitaxel-induced hyperalgesia was slightly attenuated in males, but markedly attenuated in females. In contrast, following intrathecal administration of antisense ODN to decrease expression of glucocorticoid receptors, hyperalgesia was markedly attenuated in males, but unaffected in females. Both ODNs together markedly attenuated paclitaxel-induced hyperalgesia in both males and females. We evaluated paclitaxel-induced CIPN in stress-resilient (produced by neonatal handling, NH) and stress-sensitive (produced by neonatal limited bedding, NLB). NH significantly attenuated paclitaxel-induced CIPN in adult male, but not in adult female rats. NLB did not affect the magnitude of paclitaxel-induced CIPN in either male or female. This study provides evidence that neuroendocrine stress axis activity has a marked, sexually dimorphic, effect on paclitaxel-induced painful CIPN.
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