Open Access Open Badges Research

Contrasting alterations to synaptic and intrinsic properties in upper-cervical superficial dorsal horn neurons following acute neck muscle inflammation

Belinda M Harris1, David I Hughes2, Philip S Bolton1, Melissa A Tadros1, Robert J Callister1 and Brett A Graham1*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy, Faculty of Health and Medicine, The University of Newcastle and Hunter Medical Research Institute, Room 411 Medical Sciences Building, University Drive, Newcastle, NSW 2308, Australia

2 Institute of Neuroscience & Psychology, College of Medical, Veterinary & Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK

For all author emails, please log on.

Molecular Pain 2014, 10:25  doi:10.1186/1744-8069-10-25

Published: 12 April 2014



Acute and chronic pain in axial structures, like the back and neck, are difficult to treat, and have incidence as high as 15%. Surprisingly, most preclinical work on pain mechanisms focuses on cutaneous structures in the limbs and animal models of axial pain are not widely available. Accordingly, we developed a mouse model of acute cervical muscle inflammation and assessed the functional properties of superficial dorsal horn (SDH) neurons.


Male C57/Bl6 mice (P24-P40) were deeply anaesthetised (urethane 2.2 g/kg i.p) and the rectus capitis major muscle (RCM) injected with 40 μl of 2% carrageenan. Sham animals received vehicle injection and controls remained anaesthetised for 2 hrs. Mice in each group were sacrificed at 2 hrs for analysis. c-Fos staining was used to determine the location of activated neurons. c-Fos labelling in carrageenan-injected mice was concentrated within ipsilateral (87% and 63% of labelled neurons in C1 and C2 segments, respectively) and contralateral laminae I - II with some expression in lateral lamina V. c-Fos expression remained below detectable levels in control and sham animals. In additional experiments, whole cell recordings were obtained from visualised SDH neurons in transverse slices in the ipsilateral C1 and C2 spinal segments. Resting membrane potential and input resistance were not altered. Mean spontaneous EPSC amplitude was reduced by ~20% in neurons from carrageenan-injected mice versus control and sham animals (20.63 ± 1.05 vs. 24.64 ± 0.91 and 25.87 ± 1.32 pA, respectively). The amplitude (238 ± 33 vs. 494 ± 96 and 593 ± 167 pA) and inactivation time constant (12.9 ± 1.5 vs. 22.1 ± 3.6 and 15.3 ± 1.4 ms) of the rapid A type potassium current (IAr), the dominant subthreshold current in SDH neurons, were reduced in carrageenan-injected mice.


Excitatory synaptic drive onto, and important intrinsic properties (i.e., IAr) within SDH neurons are reduced two hours after acute muscle inflammation. We propose this time point represents an important transition period between peripheral and central sensitisation with reduced excitatory drive providing an initial neuroprotective mechanism during the early stages of the progression towards central sensitisation.

Mice; A-current; EPSC; Carrageenan; Action potential