Sex differences in the magnitude of response to thermal and tactile stimuli have been demonstrated in both clinical and animal studies. Females typically display lower threshold responses to painful stimuli as compared to males. We have previously observed sexually dimorphic expression of the growth factor, neuregulin 1 (NRG1) following L5 nerve root ligation (LR) in male and female rats. In the present study, we sought to determine which gonadal hormones were involved in regulating NRG1 expression following L5 nerve root ligation. We observed that expression of NRG1 mRNA and the neuregulin receptors, ErbB2 and ErbB4 in the lumbar spinal cord was facilitated by the presence of progesterone in female rats following L5 nerve root ligation. An increase in NRG1 protein and NRG1 immunoreactivity was also observed in the ipsilateral spinal cord of progesterone treated female rats as compared to ovariectomized female rats and male rats at day 14 following LR. NRG1 immunoreactivity was equally colocalized with either the astrocytic marker, GFAP, and with NeuN labeled neurons 14days following L5 nerve root ligation. Intrathecal administration of recombinant NRG1-beta1 protein significantly decreased the hindpaw tactile withdrawal threshold in male rats, ovariectomized female rats, and progesterone treated female rats. These results demonstrate a role for progesterone-dependent regulation of glial and/or neuronal neuregulin 1 in female rats in mediating sex differences in nociception. Furthermore, our results suggest that NRG1 may be involved in central sensitization during the maintenance phase, but not in the initiation of persistent pain in female rats.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.ejpain.2007.03.010
View details for Web of Science ID 000251934200012
View details for PubMedID 17459743