Recent studies suggest that reactive oxygen species (ROS) are functional messenger molecules in central sensitization, an underlying mechanism of persistent pain. Because spinal cord long-term potentiation (LTP) is the electrophysiological basis of central sensitization, this study investigates the effects of the increased or decreased spinal ROS levels on spinal cord LTP. Spinal cord LTP is induced by either brief, high-frequency stimulation (HFS) of a dorsal root at C-fiber intensity or superfusion of a ROS donor, tert-butyl hydroperoxide (t-BOOH), onto rat spinal cord slice preparations. Field excitatory postsynaptic potentials (fEPSPs) evoked by dorsal root stimulations with either Aβ- or C-fiber intensity are recorded from the superficial dorsal horn. HFS significantly increases the slope of both Aβ- and C-fiber evoked fEPSPs, thus suggesting LTP development. The induction, not the maintenance, of HFS-induced LTP is blocked by a N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist, d-2-amino-5-phosphonopentanoic acid (D-AP5). Both the induction and maintenance of LTP of Aβ-fiber-evoked fEPSPs are inhibited by a ROS scavenger, either N-tert-butyl-α-phenylnitrone or 4-hydroxy-2,2,6,6-tetramethylpiperidine-N-oxyl. A ROS donor, t-BOOH-induced LTP is inhibited by N-tert-butyl-α-phenylnitrone but not by D-AP5. Furthermore, HFS-induced LTP and t-BOOH-induced LTP occlude each other. The data suggest that elevated ROS is a downstream event of NMDA receptor activation and an essential step for potentiation of synaptic excitability in the spinal dorsal horn.
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