Background: Antigen-specific and MHCII-restricted CD4+ αβ T cells have been shown or suggested to play an important role in the transition from acute to chronic mechanical allodynia after peripheral nerve injuries. However, it is still largely unknown where these T cells infiltrate along the somatosensory pathways transmitting mechanical allodynia to initiate the development of chronic mechanical allodynia after nerve injuries. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to ascertain the definite neuroimmune interface for these T cells to initiate the development of chronic mechanical allodynia after peripheral nerve injuries. Methods: First, we utilized both chromogenic and fluorescent immunohistochemistry (IHC) to map αβ T cells along the somatosensory pathways for the transmission of mechanical allodynia after modified spared nerve injuries (mSNIs), i.e., tibial nerve injuries, in adult male Sprague-Dawley rats. We further characterized the molecular identity of these αβ T cells selectively infiltrating into the leptomeninges of L4 dorsal roots (DRs). Second, we identified the specific origins in lumbar lymph nodes (LLNs) for CD4+ αβ T cells selectively present in the leptomeninges of L4 DRs by two experiments: (1) chromogenic IHC in these lymph nodes for CD4+ αβ T cell responses after mSNIs and (2) fluorescent IHC for temporal dynamics of CD4+ αβ T cell infiltration into the L4 DR leptomeninges after mSNIs in prior lymphadenectomized or shamoperated animals to LLNs. Finally, following mSNIs, we evaluated the effects of region-specific targeting of these T cells through prior lymphadenectomy to LLNs and chronic intrathecal application of the suppressive anti-αβTCR antibodies on the development of mechanical allodynia by von Frey hair test and spinal glial or neuronal activation by fluorescent IHC.
In cranial and spinal nerve ganglia, both axotomized primary sensory neurons without regeneration (axotomy-nonregenerative neurons) and spared intact primary sensory neurons adjacent to axotomized neurons (axotomy-spared neurons) have been definitely shown to participate in pain transmission in peripheral neuropathic pain states. However, whether axotomized primary sensory neurons with regeneration (axotomy-regenerative neurons) would be integral components of neural circuits underlying peripheral neuropathic pain states remains controversial. In the present study, we utilized an adult rat sciatic nerve crush model to systematically analyze pain behaviors on the glabrous plantar surface of the hindpaw sural nerve skin territories. To the best of our knowledge, our results for the first time showed that heat hyperalgesia, cold allodynia, mechanical allodynia, and mechanical hyperalgesia emerged and persisted on the glabrous sural nerve skin areas after adult rat sciatic nerve crush. Interestingly, mechanical hyperalgesia was sexually dimorphic. Moreover, with our optimized immunofluorescence staining protocol of free-floating thick skin sections for wide-field epifluorescence microscopic imaging, changes in purely regenerative reinnervation on the same skin areas by axotomized primary sensory afferents were shown to be paralleled by those pathological pain behaviors. To our surprise, Protein Gene Product 9.5-immunoreactive nerve fibers with regular and large varicosities ectopically emigrated into the upper dermis of the glabrous sural nerve skin territories after adult rat sciatic nerve crush. Our results indicated that axotomy-regenerative primary sensory neurons could be critical elements in neural circuits underlying peripheral neuropathic pain states. Besides, our results implied that peripheral neuropathic pain transmitted by axotomy-regenerative primary sensory neurons alone might be a new dimension in the clinical therapy of peripheral nerve trauma beyond regeneration.
Peripheral nerve functional recovery after injuries relies on both axon regeneration and remyelination. Both axon regeneration and remyelination require intimate interactions between regenerating neurons and their accompanying Schwann cells. Previous studies have shown that motor and sensory neurons are intrinsically different in their regeneration potentials. Moreover, denervated Schwann cells accompanying myelinated motor and sensory axons have distinct gene expression profiles for regeneration-associated growth factors. However, it is unknown whether differential motor and sensory functional recovery exists. If so, the particular one among axon regeneration and remyelination responsible for this difference remains unclear. Here, we aimed to establish an adult rat sciatic nerve crush model with the nonserrated microneedle holders and measured rat motor and sensory functions during regeneration. Furthermore, axon regeneration and remyelination was evaluated by morphometric analysis of electron microscopic images on the basis of nerve fiber classification. Our results showed that Aα fiber-mediated motor function was successfully recovered in both male and female rats. Aδ fiber-mediated sensory function was partially restored in male rats, but completely recovered in female littermates. For both male and female rats, the numbers of regenerated motor and sensory axons were quite comparable. However, remyelination was diverse among myelinated motor and sensory nerve fibers. In detail, Aβ and Aδ fibers incompletely remyelinated in male, but not female rats, whereas Aα fibers fully remyelinated in both sexes. Our result indicated that differential motor and sensory functional recovery in male but not female adult rats is associated with remyelination rather than axon regeneration after sciatic nerve crush.
Fluorescent immunolabeling and imaging in free-floating thick (50-60 μm) tissue sections is relatively simple in practice and enables design-based non-biased stereology, or 3-D reconstruction and analysis. This method is widely used for 3-D in situ quantitative biology in many areas of biological research. However, the labeling quality and efficiency of standard protocols for fluorescent immunolabeling of these tissue sections are not always satisfactory. Here, we systematically evaluate the effects of raising the conventional antibody incubation temperatures (4°C or 21°C) to mammalian body temperature (37°C) in these protocols. Our modification significantly enhances the quality (labeling sensitivity, specificity, and homogeneity) and efficiency (antibody concentration and antibody incubation duration) of fluorescent immunolabeling of free-floating thick tissue sections.
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