Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has been used to map cerebral activations related to nociceptive stimuli in rodents. Here, we used fMRI to investigate abnormally increased responses to noxious or innocuous stimuli, in a well-established rat model of chronic neuropathic pain induced by photochemical lumbar spinal cord injury. In this model, a subpopulation of rats exhibits allodynia-like hypersensitivity to mechanical and cold stimulation of the trunk area. In those rats that do not develop overt hypersensitivity after identical spinal cord injury (i.e. non-hypersensitive rats), touch evoked pain can be triggered by the opioid receptor antagonist, naloxone. We show that cerebral activations in contralateral primary somatosensory cortex (SI) are markedly correlated with different behavioural characteristics of these animals. Identical electrical stimulation, applied on trunks of spinally injured hypersensitive and non-hypersensitive rats, evoked significantly higher responses in SI of the former than the latter. Although levels of fMRI signals in SI of the trunk territory were not significantly different between normal and spinally injured non-hypersensitive rats, the administration of naloxone significantly increased fMRI signals in the non-hypersensitive rats, but not in the normal rats. We conclude that increased activation of contralateral SI is a key feature of behavioural neuropathic pain in spinally injured rats and that fMRI is an effective method to monitor experimental neuropathic pain in small animals.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Clinical Neurology
- Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine