Endogenous nerve growth factor regulates the sensitivity of nociceptors in the adult rat.
Bennett DL., Koltzenburg M., Priestley JV., Shelton DL., McMahon SB.
Nerve growth factor (NGF) has a well characterized role in the development of the nervous system and there is evidence that it interacts with nociceptive primary afferent fibres. Here we applied a synthetic tyrosine kinase A IgG (trkA-IgG) fusion molecule for 10-12 days to the innervation territory of the purely cutaneous saphenous nerve in order to bind, and thereby neutralize endogenous NGF in adult rats. Using neurophysiological analysis of 152 nociceptors we now show that sequestration of NGF results in specific changes of their receptive field properties. The percentage of nociceptors responding to heat dropped significantly from a normal 57% to 32%. This was accompanied by a rightward shift and a reduced slope of the stimulus response function relating the intracutaneous temperature to the neural response. The number of nociceptors responding to application of bradykinin was also significantly reduced from a normal of 28% to 8%. In contrast, the threshold for mechanical stimuli and the response to suprathreshold stimuli remained unaltered, as did the percentage of nociceptors responding to noxious cold. The reduced sensitivity of primary afferent nociceptors was accompanied by a reduction in the innervation density of the epidermis by 44% as assessed with quantitative immunocytochemical analysis of the panaxonal marker PGP 9.5. This demonstrates that endogenous NGF in the adult specifically modulates the terminal arborization of unmyelinated fibres and the sensitivity of primary afferent nociceptors to thermal and chemical stimuli in vivo.