Exp Neurol. 2020 Jan;323:113083. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2019.113083. Epub 2019 Oct 31.

Paradoxical effects of continuous high dose gabapentin treatment on autonomic dysreflexia after complete spinal cord injury.


Spinal cord injury (SCI) can have profound effects on the autonomic and cardiovascular systems, notably with injuries above high-thoracic levels that result in the development of autonomic dysreflexia (AD) characterized by volatile hypertension in response to exaggerated sympathetic reflexes triggered by afferent stimulation below the injury level. Pathophysiological changes associated with the development of AD include sprouting of both nociceptive afferents and ascending propriospinal 'relay' neurons below the injury, as well as dynamic changes in synaptic inputs onto sympathetic preganglionic neurons. However, it remains uncertain whether synapse formation between sprouted c-fibers and propriospinal neurons contributes to the development of exaggerated sympathetic reflexes produced during AD. We previously reported that once daily treatment with the anti-epileptic and neuropathic pain medication, gabapentin (GBP), at low dosage (50 mg/kg) mitigates experimentally induced AD soon after injections, likely by impeding glutamatergic signaling. Since much higher doses of GBP are reported to block the formation of excitatory synapses, we hypothesized that continuous, high dosage GBP treatment after SCI might prevent the formation of aforementioned aberrant synapses and, accordingly, reduce the incidence and severity of AD. Adult female rats implanted with aortic telemetry probes for hemodynamic monitoring underwent T4-transection SCI and immediately received 100 mg/kg (i.p.) of GBP and then every six hours (400 mg/kg/day) for 4-weeks after injury. We assessed daily body weight, mean arterial pressure, heart rate, frequency of spontaneous AD, and hemodynamic changes during colorectal distension (CRD) to establish whether high dose GBP treatment prophylactically mitigates both AD and associated aberrant synaptic plasticity. This regimen significantly reduced both the absolute blood pressure reached during experimentally induced AD and the time required to return to baseline afterwards. Conversely, GBP prevented return to pre-injury body weights and paradoxically increased the frequency of spontaneously occurring AD. While there were significant decreases in the densities of excitatory and inhibitory pre-synaptic markers in the lumbosacral dorsal horn following injury alone, they were unaltered by continuous GBP treatment. This indicates distinct mechanisms of action for acute GBP to mitigate induced AD whereas chronic GBP increases non-induced AD frequencies. While high dose prophylactic GBP is not recommended to treat AD, acute low dose GBP may hold therapeutic value to mitigate evoked AD, notably during iatrogenic procedures under controlled clinical conditions.


Autonomic; Neurontin; Plasticity; Sympathetic; Synapse