Chemokine CX3CL1 and its receptor CX3CR1 in the lumbar spinal cord play crucial roles in pain processing. Electroacupuncture (EA) is recognized as an alternative therapy in pain treatment due to its efficacy and safety. However, the analgesic mechanism of EA remains unclear. The aim of this study was to investigate whether EA suppressed complete Freund’s adjuvant (CFA)-induced pain via modulating CX3CL1-CX3CR1 pathway.
Inflammatory pain was induced by intraplantar injection of CFA to the left hind paw of Sprague-Dawley rats. EA with 2 Hz for 30 mins was given to bilateral Zusanli acupoints (ST36) on the first and third day after CFA injection. Mechanical allodynia and thermal hyperalgesia were tested with von Frey tests and Hargreaves tests, respectively. The expressions of CX3CL1, CX3CR1 and p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) were quantified with Western blots. The release of IL-1β, IL-6 and TNF-α were evaluated with ELISA. Recombinant CX3CL1 or control IgG were then injected through intrathecal catheters in the EA-treated CFA model rats. The behavioral tests, p38 MAPK activation and cytokine release were then evaluated.
EA significantly inhibited inflammatory pain induced by CFA for 3 days. Meanwhile, EA downregulated the expression of CX3CL1 but not CX3CR1 in the lumbar spinal cord of the CFA rats. Besides, activation of p38 MAPK and the release of pain-related cytokines (IL-1β, IL-6 and TNF-α) were inhibited by EA. Intrathecal injection of CX3CL1 largely reversed the analgesic effect of EA treatment and re-activated p38 MAPK signaling, and resulted in pro-inflammatory cytokines increase in acupuncture-treated rats.