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Letters to Nature
Nature 363, 543 - 546 (10 June 1993); doi:10.1038/363543a0

Peripheral nerve injury triggers noradrenergic sprouting within dorsal root ganglia

Elspeth M. McLachlan*, Wilfrid Jänig, Marshall Devor & Martin Michaelis

*Department of Physiology & Pharmacology, University of Queensland, Queensland 4072, Australia
Physiologisches Institut, Christians-Albrechts Universitat, Kiel 2300, Germany
Department of Cell and Animal Biology, Life Sciences Institute, Hebrew University, Jerusalem 91904, Israel

IN humans, trauma to a peripheral nerve may be followed by chronic pain syndromes which are only relieved by blockade of the effects of sympathetic impulse traffic1–4. It is presumed that, after the lesion, noradrenaline released by activity of sympathetic postganglionic axons excites primary afferent neurons by activating α-adrenoceptors2,5, generating signals that enter the 'pain pathways' of the central nervous system. The site of coupling is unclear. In some patients local anaesthesia of the relevant peripheral nerve6 does not alleviate pain, implying that ectopic impulses arise either within the central nervous system, or in proximal parts of the primary afferent neurons. In experimentally lesioned rats, activity can originate within the dorsal root ganglia7,8. Here we report that, after sciatic nerve ligation, noradrenergic perivascular axons in rats sprout into dorsal root ganglia and form basket-like structures around large-diameter axotomized sensory neurons; sympathetic stimulation can activate such neurons repetitively. These unusual connections provide a possible origin for abnormal discharge following peripheral nerve damage. Further, in contrast to the sprouting of intact nerve terminals into nearby denervated effector tissues in skin9,10, muscle11, sympathetic ganglia12 and sweat glands13, the axons sprout into a target which has not been partially denervated.

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