Estrogen increases nociception-evoked brain-derived neurotrophic factor gene expression in the female rat.

Neuroendocrinology

PubMedID: 16020928

Allen AL, McCarson KE. Estrogen increases nociception-evoked brain-derived neurotrophic factor gene expression in the female rat. Neuroendocrinology. 2005;81(3):193-9.
Chronic pain induces plastic changes in nociceptive sensory pathways, and is often accompanied and exacerbated by depression. Estrogen can influence nociceptive sensory processing, but the molecular mechanisms underlying sex differences in pain remain unclear. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) may orchestrate changes occurring during persistent pain or depression by increasing spinal nociceptive signaling and altering neuronal growth in higher brain structures. This study addressed whether estrogen regulates BDNF gene expression in central systems associated with nociceptive processing and/or affective state, which may in turn influence sex differences in pain sensitivity. Thus, BDNF gene expression was quantified in intact female rats in proestrus and diestrus, and in ovariectomized (OVX) rats with or without 17beta-estradiol (E2) replacement following intraplantar injection of dilute formalin as an inflammatory nociceptive stimulus. Twenty-four hours after formalin injection, central nervous system (CNS) tissues were removed and solution hybridization-nuclease protection assays used to quantify BDNF mRNA levels. Results demonstrated that estrogen replacement increased BDNF mRNA levels in the hippocampus, cortex and spinal cord. Cortical BDNF mRNA levels were significantly decreased by nociception, in the hippocampus this decrease was only evident in estrogen-treated rats. Spinal BDNF expression was robustly increased by nociception. The pain-evoked up-regulation of spinal BDNF gene expression was significantly potentiated by concomitant estrogen treatment. Results demonstrate that BDNF gene expression in certain brain structures is inhibited by inflammatory pain, yet estrogen may enhance central nervous system sensitization associated with sensory processing. Since alterations in BDNF gene expression in higher brain centers may be relevant to cognitive changes that occur in recurrent depression, these results may provide insights into the coincidence of chronic pain and depression.