Chronic pain is a common medical complication experienced by those living with spinal cord injury (SCI) and leads to worsened quality of life. The pathophysiology of SCI pain is poorly understood, hampering the development of safe and efficacious therapeutics. We therefore sought to develop a clinically relevant model of SCI with a strong pain phenotype and characterize the central and peripheral pathology after injury. A contusion (50 kdyn) injury, with and without sustained compression (60 seconds) of the spinal cord, was carried out on female C57BL/6J mice. Mice with compression of the spinal cord exhibited significantly greater heat and mechanical hypersensitivity starting at 7 days post-injury, concomitant with reduced locomotor function, compared to those without compression. Immunohistochemical analysis of spinal cord tissue revealed significantly less myelin sparing and increased macrophage activation in mice with compression compared to those without. As measured by flow cytometry, immune cell infiltration and activation were significantly greater in the spinal cord (phagocytic myeloid cells and microglia) and dorsal root ganglia (Ly6C+ monocytes) following compression injury. We also decided to investigate the gastrointestinal microbiome, as it has been shown to be altered in SCI patients and has recently been shown to play a role in immune system maturation and pain. We found increased dysbiosis of the gastrointestinal microbiome in an injury severity-dependent manner. The use of this contusion-compression model of SCI may help advance the preclinical assessment of acute and chronic SCI pain and lead to a better understanding of mechanisms contributing to this pain.
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