Acupuncture therapy plays a pivotal role in pain relief, and increasing evidence demonstrates that mast cells (MCs) may mediate acupuncture analgesia. The present study aims to investigate the role of MCs in acupuncture analgesia using c-kit gene mutant–induced MC-deficient rats.
WsRC-Ws/Ws rats and their wild-type (WT) littermates (WsRC-+/+) were used. The number of MCs in skin of ST36 area was compared in two rats after immunofluorescence labeling. Mechanical withdrawal latency (MWL), mechanical withdrawal threshold (MWT), and thermal withdrawal latency (TWL) were measured on bilateral plantar for pain threshold evaluation before and after each stimulus. Acupuncture- and moxibustion-like stimuli (43°C, 46°C heat, 1 mA electroacupuncture [EA], 3 mA EA, and manual acupuncture [MA]) were applied randomly on different days.
Fewer MCs were observed in the skin of ST36 in mutant rats compared to WT rats ( P<0.001). For pain thresholds, MWL and MWT were higher in WsRC-Ws/Ws compared to WsRC-+/+ on bilateral paws ( P<0.05), but TWL was not different between the two rats ( P>0.05). Bilateral MWL and MWT in WsRC-+/+ rats increased significantly after each stimulus compared to baseline ( P<0.01, P<0.001). In WsRC-Ws/Ws rats, only noxious stimuli could produce anti-nociceptive effects for mechanical pain (46°C, 3 mA EA, MA) ( P<0.01, P<0.001). Additionally, the net increases in MWL and MWT induced by most stimuli were greater in WT than in mutant rats ( P<0.05). For thermal nociception, either high- or low-intensity stimuli could significantly augment TWL in two rats ( P<0.001), and the net increases of TWL evoked by most stimuli were to the same extent in two genetic variants.
MCs influence the basic mechanical but not thermal pain threshold. MCs participate in acupuncture analgesia in mechanical but not in thermal nociception, in that MC deficiency may attenuate the mechanical analgesia evoked by high-intensity stimuli and eliminate analgesia provoked by low-intensity stimuli.