Nociceptors are a particular subtype of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons that detect noxious stimuli and elicit pain. Although recent efforts have been made to reveal the molecular profile of nociceptors in normal conditions, little is known about how this profile changes in pathological conditions. In this study we exploited laser capture microdissection to specifically collect individual injured and non-injured nociceptive DRG neurons and to define their gene profiling in rat spared nerve injury (SNI) model of neuropathic pain. We found minimal transcriptional changes in non-injured neurons at 7 days after SNI. In contrast, several novel transcripts were altered in injured nociceptors, and the global signature of these LCM-captured neurons differed markedly from that the gene expression patterns found previously using whole DRG tissue following SNI. Pathway analysis of the transcriptomic profile of the injured nociceptors revealed oxidative stress as a key biological process. We validated the increase of caspase-6 (CASP6) in small-sized DRG neurons and its functional role in SNI- and paclitaxel-induced neuropathic pain. Our results demonstrate that the identification of gene regulation in a specific population of DRG neurons (e.g., nociceptors) is an effective strategy to reveal new mechanisms and therapeutic targets for neuropathic pain from different origins.
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