Persistent neuropathic pain affects millions of people worldwide and many cases remain refractory to available therapies. To treat neuropathic pain more effectively, it is necessary to understand the molecular basis of nociception and the maladaptive changes underlying the transition from acute to persistent pain. The down- regulation of A-type K+ currents in dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons has been implicated in the neuropathic pain state. However, it is not clear how this change contributes to disease because the specific roles and modulation of A-type K+ channels in nociceptors are not understood. The A-type high voltage-activated Kv3.4 channel is highly expressed in DRG nociceptors and is dramatically modulated by protein kinase-C (PKC) upon activating G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs). Basically, phosphorylation of the Kv3.4 N-terminus converts the channel's fast-inactivating A-type phenotype into a non-inactivating delayed-rectifier-type phenotype. Furthermore, Kv3.4 channels accelerate the repolarization of the nociceptor action potential in a manner that depends on the phosphorylation status of the N-terminal inactivation gate. Kv3.4 channels might thus be instrumental in a novel mechanism of homeostatic plasticity involving second messenger signaling complex. We hypothesize that plastic changes occurring in nociceptors during the transition from acute to persistent pain compromise the ability of Kv3.4 channels to regulate the repolarization of the AP, which will impact critical downstream processes, such as Ca2+ signaling and synaptic transmission. To explore this hypothesis, we implemented a spinal cord injury (SCI) model of neuropathic pain and will pursue the following specific aims: 1) To investigate the neurophysiological mechanisms implicating Kv3.4 channels in nociception and neuropathic pain;and 2) To investigate the signaling mechanisms implicating PKC-dependent modulation of Kv3.4 channels in nociception and neuropathic pain. At various time points after the injury, and relative to appropriate controls, we will monitor pain behaviors and apply patch-clamp methods to investigate the activity and neurophysiological impact of Kv3.4 channels in DRG neurons. Also, we will combine immunological, molecular, and electrophysiological approaches to determine the phosphorylation status of Kv3.4 channels and the activity of PKC in membrane patches. To manipulate the expression of Kv3.4 channels in vivo, we will use viral vectors and siRNA to overexpress and knockdown. These experiments will break new ground by 1) shedding light on the contribution of peripheral mechanisms to neuropathic pain resulting from SCI;2) elucidating the basis of operation of a novel mechanism of nociceptor homeostatic plasticity involving a Kv3.4 channel signaling microdomain that includes GPCRs, second messenger molecules and PKC;and 3) setting the stage to develop new and more effective therapeutic strategies that may help alleviate neuropathic pain.
Millions of people in the global workforce suffer from neuropathic pain (NP) refractory to available therapies. Therefore, NP is a major health problem with significant socioeconomic implications. This project seeks to shed new light on the molecular mechanisms of pain as a key step toward developing more effective therapies against NP.