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Transforming growth factor-β1 impairs neuropathic pain through pleiotropic effects

Stefania Echeverry1, Xiang Qun Shi1, Alexandra Haw1, Hong Liu2, Zhong-wei Zhang2 and Ji Zhang1*

Author Affiliations

1 The Alan Edwards Centre for Research on Pain, McGill University, 740, Dr. Penfield Ave. Montreal, Quebec, Canada

2 The Jackson Laboratory, 600 Main Street, Bar Harbar, ME 04609, USA

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Molecular Pain 2009, 5:16  doi:10.1186/1744-8069-5-16

Published: 27 March 2009



Understanding the underlying mechanisms of neuropathic pain caused by damage to the peripheral nervous system remains challenging and could lead to significantly improved therapies. Disturbance of homeostasis not only occurs at the site of injury but also extends to the spinal cord and brain involving various types of cells. Emerging data implicate neuroimmune interaction in the initiation and maintenance of chronic pain hypersensitivity.


In this study, we sought to investigate the effects of TGF-β1, a potent anti-inflammatory cytokine, in alleviating nerve injury-induced neuropathic pain in rats. By using a well established neuropathic pain animal model (partial ligation of the sciatic nerve), we demonstrated that intrathecal infusion of recombinant TGF-β1 significantly attenuated nerve injury-induced neuropathic pain. TGF-β1 treatment not only prevents development of neuropathic pain following nerve injury, but also reverses previously established neuropathic pain conditions. The biological outcomes of TGF-β1 in this context are attributed to its pleiotropic effects. It inhibits peripheral nerve injury-induced spinal microgliosis, spinal microglial and astrocytic activation, and exhibits a powerful neuroprotective effect by preventing the induction of ATF3+ neurons following nerve ligation, consequently reducing the expression of chemokine MCP-1 in damaged neurons. TGF-β1 treatment also suppresses nerve injury-induced inflammatory response in the spinal cord, as revealed by a reduction in cytokine expression.


Our findings revealed that TGF-β1 is effective in the treatment of neuropathic by targeting both neurons and glial cells. We suggest that therapeutic agents such as TGF-β1 having multipotent effects on different types of cells could work in synergy to regain homeostasis in local spinal cord microenvironments, therefore contributing to attenuate neuropathic pain.