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Downregulation of tetrodotoxin-resistant sodium currents and upregulation of a rapidly repriming tetrodotoxin-sensitive sodium current in small spinal sensory neurons after nerve injury.

T R Cummins, S G Waxman

J. Neurosci., 1997 May 15 , 17, 3503-14

Clinical and experimental studies have shown that spinal sensory neurons become hyperexcitable after axonal injury, and electrophysiological changes have suggested that this may be attributable to changes in sodium current expression. We have demonstrated previously that sodium channel alpha-III mRNA levels are elevated and sodium channel alpha-SNS mRNA levels are reduced in rat spinal sensory neurons after axotomy. In this study we show that small (C-type) rat spinal sensory neurons express sodium currents with dramatically different kinetics after axotomy produced by sciatic nerve ligation. Uninjured C-type neurons express both slowly inactivating tetrodotoxin-resistant (TTX-R) sodium current and a fast-inactivating tetrodotoxin-sensitive (TTX-S) current that reprimes (recovers from inactivation) slowly. After axotomy, the TTX-R current density was greatly reduced. No difference was observed in the density of TTX-S currents after axotomy, and their voltage dependence was not different from controls. However, TTX-S currents in axotomized neurons reprimed four times faster than control TTX-S currents. These data indicate that axotomy of spinal neurons is followed by downregulation of TTX-R current and by the emergence of a rapidly repriming TTX-S current and suggest that this may be attributable to the upregulation of a sodium channel isoform that was unexpressed previously in these cells. These axotomy-induced changes in sodium currents are expected to alter excitability substantially and could underlie the molecular pathogenesis of some chronic pain syndromes associated with injury to the axons of spinal sensory neurons.