Sex-specific biobehavioral regulation of persistent inflammatory pain by alcohol

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Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research


Background: Although a large percentage of chronic pain patients consume alcohol to manage their pain, there is a significant gap in knowledge regarding the mechanisms underlying the antinociceptive effects of alcohol. Methods: To determine the longitudinal analgesic effects of alcohol, we utilized the complete Freund's adjuvant (CFA) model of inflammatory pain in adult female and male Wistar rats. Both somatic and negative motivational aspects of pain were measured using the electronic von Frey (mechanical nociception) system, thermal probe test (thermal nociception), and mechanical conflict avoidance task (pain avoidance-like behavior). Tests were conducted at baseline and 1 and 3 weeks following intraplantar CFA or saline administration. At both time points post-CFA, animals were treated with each of three doses of alcohol (intraperitoneal; 0, 0.5, and 1.0 g/kg) over separate days in a Latin square design. Results: Alcohol produced dose-dependent mechanical analgesia and antihyperalgesia in females but only antihyperalgesia in males. Although alcohol continued to attenuate CFA-induced decreases in both thermal and mechanical nociceptive thresholds between 1 and 3 weeks post-CFA, it appeared less effective at increasing thresholds 3 weeks after CFA induction. Conclusions: These data suggest that individuals may develop tolerance to alcohol's ability to alleviate both somatic and negative motivational symptoms of chronic pain over time. We also discovered sex-specific neuroadaptations in protein kinase A-dependent phosphorylation of GluR1 subunits and extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK 1/2) phosphorylation in nociceptive brain centers of animals receiving an alcohol challenge 1 week post-CFA. Together, these findings illustrate a sex-specific regulation of behavioral and neurobiological indices of persistent pain by alcohol.

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