Corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) is a peptide involved in the activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. CRF is distributed not only along the HPA axis but also throughout pain-relevant anatomical sites. CRF elicits potent antinociception at the three main levels of pain transmissions: namely, the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral sensory neurons. The widespread distribution of CRF receptors 1 and 2 in the brain offers several targets wherein CRF could alter pain, some of which may be independent of the HPA axis. In this study, we assessed the expression of CRF and its receptors, CRF receptor type (CRFR)1 and CRFR2, in the spinal dorsal horn and dorsal root ganglion (DRG) in a rat model of neuropathic pain induced by spinal nerve injury (SNI). CRF was expressed in a few DRG neurons and primary afferent fibers in the dorsal horns of naїve rats, and the CRF-positive neurons in DRG and fibers in the spinal dorsal horn were found to have increased after SNI. CRFR1 was not expressed in DRG or the dorsal horn and CRFR2 was expressed weakly in the small neurons in DRG in the naїve rats. After SNI, CRFR1 was expressed in the activated microglia in the ipsilateral dorsal horn, and immunoreaction for CRFR2 was increased in the contralateral DRG following SNI. Consequently, it has been suggested that the increased expression of CRF and CRFR2 in DRG neurons and primary afferent fibers in dorsal horn, and CRFR1 in the activated microglia, may be involved in the mediation of stress responses as well as in microglial activation in the neuropathic pain state following SNI
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