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The sympathetic nervous system contributes to capsaicin-evoked mechanical allodynia but not pinprick hyperalgesia in humans.

Author(s): Liu M, Max MB, Parada S, Rowan JS, Bennett GJ

Affiliation(s): Neurobiology and Anesthesiology Branch, National Institute of Dental Research, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.

Publication date & source: 1996-11-15, J Neurosci., 16(22):7331-5.

Publication type: Clinical Trial; Randomized Controlled Trial

The contribution of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) to pain, mechanical allodynia (MA), and hyperalgesia in humans is controversial. A clearer understanding is crucial to guide therapeutic use of sympatholytic surgery, blocks, and drug treatments. In rats, capsaicin-evoked MA, and to some extent, pinprick hyperalgesia (PPH), can be blocked with alpha-adrenoreceptor antagonists. In this study, we examined the contribution of the SNS to MA and PPH in normal human subjects by blocking alpha-adrenoreceptors with intravenous phentolamine. In a double-blinded, placebo-controlled, crossover study, subjects were given IV saline or phentolamine, 1 mg/kg over 20 min. Ten minutes after the start of the infusion, subjects received 100 micrograms of intradermal capsaicin on the foot dorsum with the temperature of the injected site clamped at 36 degrees C. The temperature of the uninjected foot was used to monitor the degree of alpha-adrenoreceptor blockade produced by phentolamine. Ongoing pain and MA and PPH areas were measured every 5 min for 60 min. A significantly greater increase in temperature on the uninjected foot was seen during the phentolamine infusion compared with the saline infusion, indicating alpha-adrenergic blockade. Significantly less MA was observed with the phentolamine infusion 10-25 min after capsaicin injection than with the saline infusion. No significant differences in ongoing pain or PPH areas were seen between the two infusions at any time. Our results suggest that capsaicin-evoked MA and PPH have different mechanisms, with the SNS having a role in MA but not in PPH or ongoing pain.

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