J Neurosci Res, Jun 2017

Neuropathic pain following traumatic spinal cord injury: Models, measurement, and mechanisms

Kramer JL, Minhas NK, Jutzeler CR, Erskine EL, Liu LJ, Ramer MS


Neuropathic pain following spinal cord injury (SCI) is notoriously difficult to treat and is a high priority for many in the SCI population. Resolving this issue requires animal models fidelic to the clinical situation in terms of injury mechanism and pain phenotype. This Review discusses the means by which neuropathic pain has been induced and measured in experimental SCI and compares these with human outcomes, showing that there is a substantial disconnection between experimental investigations and clinical findings in a number of features. Clinical injury level is predominantly cervical, whereas injury in the laboratory is modeled mainly at the thoracic cord. Neuropathic pain is primarily spontaneous or tonic in people with SCI (with a relatively smaller incidence of allodynia), but measures of evoked responses (to thermal and mechanical stimuli) are almost exclusively used in animals. There is even the question of whether pain per se has been under investigation in most experimental SCI studies rather than simply enhanced reflex activity with no affective component. This Review also summarizes some of the problems related to clinical assessment of neuropathic pain and how advanced imaging techniques may circumvent a lack of patient/clinician objectivity and discusses possible etiologies of neuropathic pain following SCI based on evidence from both clinical studies and animal models, with examples of cellular and molecular changes drawn from the entire neuraxis from primary afferent terminals to cortical sensory and affective centers.


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