Spinal glial activation and cytokine expression after lumbar root injury in the rat

Hiroshi Hashizume, Joyce A. DeLeo*, Raymond W. Colburn, James Neil Weinstein

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    257 Scopus citations


    Study Design. This study was designed to examine the behavioral immunohistochemical changes of spinal glial cells and spinal Interleukin (IL)-1β expression after various nerve root injuries used as models of lumbar radiculopathy. Objectives. In order to better understand the role of centra inflammation in the pathophysiologic mechanisms that give rise to pain associated with lumbar radiculopathy, this research studied the relationship between pain-related behavior associated with spinal glial activation and IL- 1β expression generated by three types of nerve root injury: loose ligation with chromic gut, loose ligation with silk, and tight ligation with silk. Summary of Background Data. An animal model of lumbar radiculopathy originally described by Kawakami and Weinstein involved loose ligation of unilateral L4-L6 nerve roots with chromic gut. Characterization and establishment of such an animal model of low back pain enables further investigation of the nature of the pathophysiologic mechanisms associated with lumbar radiculopathy in humans. Methods. Seventy-three rats were divided into four treatment groups. Chromic group (n = 25): The L5 nerve roots (dorsal and ventral) were exposed by hemilaminectomy and loosely ligated with chromic gut. Tight silk group (n = 18): The exposed L5 nerve roots were tightly ligated extradurally with 5-0 silk suture. Loose silk group (n = 15): two loose ligatures of 5-0 silk were placed around the exposed L5 nerve roots. Sham group (n = 15): the rats were subjected to laminectomy alone for exposing nerve roots. Following surgery, thermal hyperalgesia and mechanical allodynia was assessed time-dependently up to 42 days post operatively. At 1, 3, 7, 14, and 42 days postoperatively, the rats in each group were perfused With fixative. The L5 spinal cord segments was harvested and cryosectioned for glial and cytokine immunohistochemistry. Result. In the chromic and the tight silk group, an immediate and sustained mechanical allodynia was observed in the ipsilateral hind paw up to 35 days postoperatively. The loose silk group also showed an immediate mechanical allodynia that subsided by 14 days postoperatively. Sham-treated animals exhibited mild mechanical allodynia for the initial 7 days after the surgery. Thermal-hyperalgesia was evident in the three primary treatment groups, but not in the sham-treated rats. OX-42 expression was elevated in the gray matter of the L5 spinal section by 3 days in the chromic, the tight silk, and the loose silk groups as compared to the sham group. Astrocytic activation increased over time in all groups except the sham group. There was no direct correlation between degree of microglial response and severity of pain behaviors. In contrast, astrocytic activation demonstrated a direct relationship with the elevation of mechanical allodynia for the first 7 days. In addition, spinal IL-1β protein expression was increased bilaterally in the superficial layer of the dorsal horn and cell nuclei of the ventral horns in the ligature treated groups as compared with the sham group. Conclusion. Direct mechanical and/or chemical injury to lumbar roots in the rat gives rise to pain behavior suggestive of lumbar radiculopathy. The finding that glial activation and enhanced IL-1β expression are observed in the spinal cord after root injury supports a central, neuroimmune component in the generation of lumbar radiculopathy. A further understanding of the immunologic consequences of root injury may lead to further development and the novel use of selective cytokine-inflammatory inhibitors for the treatment of low back pain associated with radiculopathy.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1206-1217
    Number of pages12
    Issue number10
    StatePublished - May 15 2000


    • Astrocytes
    • Chronic pain
    • Microglia
    • Nerve root
    • Radiculopathy

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
    • Clinical Neurology


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