Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Cell and Regulatory Biology

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Edgar T. Walters

Committee Member

Roger G. O'Neil

Committee Member

Patrick M. Dougherty

Committee Member

Raymond J. Grill

Committee Member

Guangwei Du


A majority of persons who have sustained spinal cord injury (SCI) develop chronic pain. While most investigators have assumed that the critical mechanisms underlying neuropathic pain after SCI are restricted to the central nervous system (CNS), recent studies showed that contusive SCI results in a large increase in spontaneous activity in primary nociceptors, which is correlated significantly with mechanical allodynia and thermal hyperalgesia. Upregulation of ion channel transient receptor vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) has been observed in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord after SCI, and reduction of SCI-induced hyperalgesia by a TRPV1 antagonist has been claimed. However, the possibility that SCI enhances TRPV1 expression and function in nociceptors has not been tested. I produced contusive SCI at thoracic level T10 in adult, male rats and harvested lumbar (L4/L5) dorsal root ganglia (DRG) from sham-treated and SCI rats 3 days and 1 month after injury, as well as from age-matched naive control rats. Whole-cell patch clamp recordings were made from small (soma diameter <30 >μm) DRG neurons 18 hours after dissociation. Capsaicin-induced currents were significantly increased 1 month, but not 3 days, after SCI compared to neurons from control animals. In addition, Ca2+ transients imaged during capsaicin application were significantly greater 1 month after SCI. Western blot experiments indicated that expression of TRPV1 protein in DRG is also increased 1 month after SCI. A major role for TRPV1 channels in pain-related behavior was indicated by the ability of a specific TRPV1 antagonist, AMG9810, to reverse SCI-induced hypersensitivity of hindlimb withdrawal responses to heat and mechanical stimuli. Similar reversal of behavioral hypersensitivity was induced by intrathecal delivery of oligodeoxynucleotides antisense to TRPV1, which knocked down TRPV1 protein and reduced capsaicin-evoked currents. TRPV1 knockdown also decreased the incidence of spontaneous activity in dissociated nociceptors after SCI. Limited activation of TRPV1 was found to induce prolonged repetitive firing without accommodation or desensitization, and this effect was enhanced by SCI. These data suggest that SCI enhances TRPV1 expression and function in primary nociceptors, increasing the excitability and spontaneous activity of these neurons, thus contributing to chronic pain after SCI.


Allodynia, Capsaicin, Dorsal root ganglion, Hyperalgesia, Pain, Spinal contusion