Exp Neurol 2012 Aug 23;236(2):268-82. Epub 2012 May 23.
Inhibition of ROS-induced p38MAPK and ERK activation in Microglia by Acupuncture relieves Neuropathic Pain after Spinal Cord Injury in Rats
Acupuncture (AP) is currently used worldwide to relieve pain. However, little is known about its mechanisms of action. We found that after spinal cord injury (SCI), AP inhibited the production of superoxide anion (O(2)·), which acted as a modulator for microglial activation, and the analgesic effect of AP was attributed to its anti-microglial activating action. Direct injection of a ROS scavenger inhibited SCI-induced NP. After contusion injury which induces the below-level neuropathic pain (NP), Shuigou and Yanglingquan acupoints were applied. AP relieved mechanical allodynia and thermal hyperalgesia, while vehicle and simulated AP did not. AP also decreased the proportion of activated microglia, and inhibited both p38MAPK and ERK activation in microglia at the L4-5. Also, the level of prostaglandin E(2) (PGE2), which is produced via ERK signaling and mediates the below-level pain through PGE2 receptor, was reduced by AP. Injection of p38MAPK or ERK inhibitors attenuated NP and decreased PGE2 production. Furthermore, ROS produced after injury-induced p38MAPK and ERK activation in microglia, and mediated mechanical allodynia and thermal hyperalgesia, which were inhibited by AP or a ROS scavenger. AP also inhibited the expression of inflammatory mediators. Therefore, our results suggest that the analgesic effect of AP may be partly mediated by inhibiting ROS-induced microglial activation and inflammatory responses after SCI and provide the possibility that AP can be used effectively as a non-pharmacological intervention for SCI-induced chronic NP in patients.