Tacrolimus Induces Pain by Upregulating the Synaptic Expression of AMPA Receptors in the Spinal Cord Dorsal Horn

XU Jiayu, LI Jing, LI Yuan, WANG Kangli, ZENG Xiangru, SUO Zhanwei


To investigate the effects of long-term administration of tacrolimus (also known as FK506) on the pain-related behaviors in mice and to study the underlying mechanism of pain induced by FK506 via measuring the effect of FK506 on the synaptic expression and phosphorylation of alpha-amino-3-hyroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA) receptor in the spinal cord dorsal horn of mice.Methods 1) A total of 24 mice were evenly and randomly assigned to two groups, a FK506 group and a Saline group. The FK506 group was given daily intraperitoneal injection of FK506 and the Saline group received normal saline. Both groups received injection once a day for 7 days in a row. Some of the mice (n=6 in each group) were monitored for the changes in the paw withdrawal threshold (PWT), the paw withdrawal latency (PWL), and the spontaneous pain behaviors to establish the pain model. The other mice (n=6 in each group) of each group underwent isolation of the dorsal horn when obvious pain symptoms were induced on day 7 of injection. Then, immunoblotting was performed to determine the synaptic expression and phosphorylation levels of GluA1 and GluA2 subunits of AMPA receptors. 2) The mice were randomly divided into two groups, FK506+calcineurin (CaN) group and FK506+Saline group (n=6 in each group). After the pain model was constructed, the mice were given intrathecal injection of recombinant CaN (also know as 33 U) or normal saline. Then, 60 minutes later, the PWT and the PWL of the mice were measured to investigate the role of CaN in FK506-induced pain. 3) Another18 mice were selected. The mice were randomly and evenly assigned to three groups, a control group (receiving intraperitoneal injection of normal saline followed by intrathecal injection of normal saline), FK506+Saline group (receiving intraperitoneal injection of FK506 followed by intrathecal injection of normal saline) and FK506+CaN group (receiving intraperitoneal injection of FK506 followed by intrathecal injection of CaN). Then, 60 minutes later, the spinal cords were isolated and subjected to immunoblotting assay to determine the role of CaN in FK506-induced AMPA receptor modification.Results  1) After 7 consecutive days of intraperitoneal injection of FK506, the PWT and PWL of mice dropped significantly, reaching on day 7 as low as 22.3%±0.05% and 66.6%±0.05% of the control group, respectively (P<0.01). The FK506-treated mice displayed evident spontaneous pain behavior, presenting significantly increased licking activities (P<0.01). These results indicated that FK506-induced pain model was successfully established. Immunoblotting assay showed that the total expressions of GluA1 and GluA2 subunits in the spinal dorsal horn of the FK506 group remained unchanged in comparison with those of the Saline group. However, FK506 specifically induced an increase in the synaptic expression of GluA1. In addition, the phosphorylation levels of GluA1 at Ser845 and Ser831 in FK506-treated mice were significantly increased in comparison with those of the control group (P<0.05). 2) Compared with those of the mice in the FK506+Saline group, the PWT and the PWL of mice in the FK506+CaN group were significantly increased (P<0.05). 3) Compared with those of the FK506+Saline group, the synaptic expression of GluA1 were decreased in FK506+CaN group (P<0.01) and the phosphorylation levels of GluA1 at Ser845 and Ser831 were significantly downregulated (P<0.001).Conclusion The hyper-expression and hyperphosphorylation of GluA1 subunit in the spinal cord dorsal horn resulting from CaN inhibition contributes to the FK506-induced pain syndrome. FK506 induces the synaptic hyper-expression and hyperphosphorylation of GluA1 in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord through CaN inhibition, thereby inducing pain.

Keywords: Tacrolimus,  Spinal cord dorsal horn,  AMPA receptor,  GluA1 subunit,  Phosphorylation,  Pain

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