Indexed on: 07 Feb '13Published on: 07 Feb '13Published in: PNAS
Diverse mechanisms including activation of NMDA receptors, microglial activation, reactive astrogliosis, loss of descending inhibition, and spasticity are responsible for ∼40% of cases of intractable neuropathic pain after spinal cord injury (SCI). Because conventional treatments blocking individual mechanisms elicit only short-term effectiveness, a multimodal approach with simultaneous actions against major pain-related pathways may have value for clinical management of chronic pain. We hypothesize that [-]-huperzine A (HUP-A), an alkaloid isolated from the club moss Huperzia serrata, that is a potent reversible inhibitor of acetylcholinesterase and NMDA receptors, could mitigate pain without invoking drug tolerance or dependence by stimulating cholinergic interneurons to impede pain signaling, inhibiting inflammation via microglial cholinergic activation, and blocking NMDA-mediated central hypersensitization. We tested our hypothesis by administering HUP-A i.p. or intrathecally to female Sprague-Dawley rats (200-235 g body weight) after moderate static compression (35 g for 5 min) of T10 spinal cord. Compared with controls, HUP-A treatment demonstrates significant analgesic effects in both regimens. SCI rats manifested no drug tolerance following repeated bolus i.p. or chronic intrathecal HUP-A dosing. The pain-ameliorating effect of HUP-A is cholinergic dependent. Relative to vehicle treatment, HUP-A administration also reduced neural inflammation, retained higher numbers of calcium-impermeable GluR2-containing AMPA receptors, and prevented Homer1a up-regulation in dorsal horn sensory neurons. Therefore, HUP-A may provide safe and effective management for chronic postneurotrauma pain by reestablishing homeostasis of sensory circuits.