Clinical data on osteoarthritis (OA) suggest widespread changes in sensory function that vary during the progression of OA. In previous studies on a surgically-induced animal model of OA we have observed that changes in structure and gene expression follow a variable trajectory over the initial days and weeks. To investigate mechanisms underlying changes in sensory function in this model, the present electrophysiological study compared properties of primary sensory nociceptive neurons at one and two months after model induction with properties in naïve control animals. Pilot data indicated no difference in C- or Aδ-fiber associated neurons and therefore the focus is on Aβ-fiber nociceptive neurons.
At one month after unilateral derangement of the knee by cutting the anterior cruciate ligament and removing the medial meniscus, the only changes observed in Aβ-fiber dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons were in nociceptor-like unresponsive neurons bearing a hump on the repolarization phase; these changes consisted of longer half width, reflecting slowed dynamics of AP genesis, a depolarized Vm and an increased AP amplitude. At two months, changes observed were in Aβ-fiber high threshold mechanoreceptors, which exhibited shorter AP duration at base and half width, shorter rise time and fall time, and faster maximum rising rate/maximum falling rate, reflecting accelerated dynamics of AP genesis.
These data indicate that Aβ nociceptive neurons undergo significant changes that vary in time and occur later than changes in structure and in nociceptive scores in this surgically induced OA model. Thus, if changes in Aβ-fiber nociceptive neurons in this model reflect a role in OA pain, they may relate to mechanisms underlying pain associated with advanced OA.