Painful diabetic neuropathy (PDN) is an intractable complication of diabetes that affects 25% of patients. PDN is characterized by neuropathic pain and small-fiber degeneration, accompanied by dorsal root ganglion (DRG) nociceptor hyperexcitability and loss of their axons within the skin. The molecular mechanisms underlying DRG nociceptor hyperexcitability and small-fiber degeneration in PDN are unknown. We hypothesize that chemokine CXCL12/CXCR4 signaling is central to this mechanism, as we have shown that CXCL12/CXCR4 signaling is necessary for the development of mechanical allodynia, a pain hypersensitivity behavior common in PDN. Focusing on DRG neurons expressing the sodium channel Nav1.8, we applied transgenic, electrophysiological, imaging, and chemogenetic techniques to test this hypothesis. In the high-fat diet mouse model of PDN, we were able to prevent and reverse mechanical allodynia and small-fiber degeneration by limiting CXCR4 signaling or neuronal excitability. This study reveals that excitatory CXCR4/CXCL12 signaling in Nav1.8-positive DRG neurons plays a critical role in the pathogenesis of mechanical allodynia and small-fiber degeneration in a mouse model of PDN. Hence, we propose that targeting CXCR4-mediated DRG nociceptor hyperexcitability is a promising therapeutic approach for disease-modifying treatments for this currently intractable and widespread affliction.
Nirupa D. Jayaraj, Bula J. Bhattacharyya, Abdelhak A. Belmadani, Dongjun Ren, Craig A. Rathwell, Sandra Hackelberg, Brittany E. Hopkins, Herschel R. Gupta, Richard J. Miller, Daniela M. Menichella