SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Key points

  • • 
    Activation of N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors (NMDARs) is a crucial mechanism underlying the development and maintenance of pain.
  • • 
    Little is known about the role of presynaptic NMDARs in regulating glutamate release from the spinal primary afferent terminals in neuropathic pain conditions in adult rats.
  • • 
    In this study we use electrophysiological recording from superficial dorsal horn neurons to show that endogenous activation of presynaptic NMDARs in neuropathic rats increases glutamate release from the primary afferents, which contributes to the enhanced amplitudes of EPSCs evoked by input from the primary afferents. In contrast, glutamate release from the primary afferents in sham-operated rats was not regulated by presynaptic NMDARs. These findings are supported by an increase of NR2B receptor protein expression in both the dorsal root ganglion and spinal dorsal horn ipsilateral to the injury site in neuropathic rats.
  • • 
    Our data demonstrated that suppression of the presynaptic NMDAR activity in the primary sensory afferents is an effective approach to attenuate the enhanced glutamatergic response in the spinal first sensory synapse induced by peripheral nerve injury, and presynaptic NMDARs might be a novel target for the development of analgesics.

Abstract  Activation of N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors (NMDARs) is a crucial mechanism underlying the development and maintenance of pain. Traditionally, the role of NMDARs in the pathogenesis of pain is ascribed to their activation and signalling cascades in postsynaptic neurons. In this study, we determined if presynaptic NMDARs in the primary afferent central terminals play a role in synaptic plasticity of the spinal first sensory synapse in a rat model of neuropathic pain induced by spinal nerve ligation. Excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) were recorded from superficial dorsal horn neurons of spinal slices taken from young adult rats. We showed that increased glutamate release from the primary afferents contributed to the enhanced amplitudes of EPSCs evoked by input from the primary afferents in neuropathic rats. Endogenous activation of presynaptic NMDARs increased glutamate release from the primary afferents in neuropathic rats. Presynaptic NMDARs in neuropathic rats were mainly composed of NR2B receptors. The action of presynaptic NMDARs in neuropathic rats was enhanced by exogenous d-serine and/or NMDA and dependent on activation of protein kinase C. In contrast, glutamate release from the primary afferents in sham-operated rats was not regulated by presynaptic NMDARs. We demonstrated that the lack of NMDAR-mediated regulation of glutamate release in sham-operated rats was not attributable to low extracellular levels of the NMDAR agonist and/or coagonist (d-serine), but rather was due to the insufficient function and/or number of presynaptic NMDARs. This was supported by an increase of NR2B receptor protein expression in both the dorsal root ganglion and spinal dorsal horn ipsilateral to the injury site in neuropathic rats. Hence, suppression of the presynaptic NMDAR activity in the primary sensory afferents is an effective approach to attenuate the enhanced glutamatergic response in the spinal first sensory synapse induced by peripheral nerve injury, and presynaptic NMDARs might be a novel target for the development of analgesics.