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Scandinavian Journal of Pain

Official Journal of the Scandinavian Association for the Study of Pain

Editor-in-Chief: Breivik, Harald

CiteScore 2017: 0.84

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2017: 0.401
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2017: 0.452

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Volume 10, Issue 1


Impaired recognition memory and cognitive flexibility in the rat L5–L6 spinal nerve ligation model of neuropathic pain

Orla Moriarty
  • Pharmacology and Therapeutics, School of Medicine, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
  • NCBES Neuroscience Centre, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
  • Centre for Pain Research, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Claire L. Gorman
  • Pharmacology and Therapeutics, School of Medicine, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
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  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Fiona McGowan
  • Pharmacology and Therapeutics, School of Medicine, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
  • NCBES Neuroscience Centre, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
  • Centre for Pain Research, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Gemma K. Ford
  • Pharmacology and Therapeutics, School of Medicine, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
  • NCBES Neuroscience Centre, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
  • Centre for Pain Research, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
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  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Michelle Roche
  • Physiology, School of Medicine, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
  • NCBES Neuroscience Centre, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
  • Centre for Pain Research, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
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  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Kerry Thompson
  • Anatomy, School of Medicine, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
  • Centre for Microscopy and Imaging, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
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  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Peter Dockery
  • Anatomy, School of Medicine, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
  • NCBES Neuroscience Centre, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
  • Centre for Microscopy and Imaging, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
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  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Brian E. McGuire
  • School of Psychology, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
  • NCBES Neuroscience Centre, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
  • Centre for Pain Research, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
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/ David P. Finn
  • Corresponding author
  • Pharmacology and Therapeutics, School of Medicine, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
  • NCBES Neuroscience Centre, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
  • Centre for Pain Research, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
  • Email
  • Other articles by this author:
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Published Online: 2016-01-01 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sjpain.2015.09.008


Background and aims

Although neuropathic pain is known to negatively affect cognition, the neural mechanisms involved are poorly understood. Chronic pain is associated with changes in synaptic plasticity in the brain which may impact on cognitive functioning. The aim of this study was to model neuropathic pain in mid-aged rats using spinal nerve ligation (SNL). Following establishment of allodynia and hyperalgesia, behaviour was assessed in a battery of cognitive tests. Expression of the presynaptic protein, synaptophysin, and its colocalisation with the vesicular GABA and glutamate transporters (vGAT and vGLUT, respectively), was investigated in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and hippocampus.


Nine month old male Sprague Dawley rats underwent L5-L6 spinal nerve ligation or a sham procedure. Mechanical and cold allodynia and thermal hyperalgesia were assessed using von Frey, acetone and Hargreaves tests, respectively. Cognition was assessed in the novel-object recognition, air-puff passive avoidance and Morris water maze behavioural tasks. Immunohistochemistry was used to examine the expression of synaptophysin in the mPFC and CA1 region of the hippocampus and double labelling of synaptophysin and the vesicular transporters vGAT and vGlut was used to investigate the distribution of synaptophysin on GABAergic and glutamatergic neurons.


SNL rats displayed impaired performance in the novel-object recognition task. Passive-avoidance responding, and spatial learning and memory in the Morris water maze, were unaffected by SNL surgery. However, in the water maze reversal task, pain-related impairments were evident during training and probe trials. SNL surgery was not associated with any differences in the expression of synaptophysin or its colocalisation with vGAT or vGLUT in the mPFC or the hippocampal CA1 region.


These results suggest that the SNL model of neuropathic pain is associated with deficits in recognition memory and cognitive flexibility, but these deficits are not associated with altered synaptophysin expression or distribution in the mPFC and CA1.


Cognitive complaints are common amongst chronic pain patients. Here we modelled cognitive impairment in a well-established animal model of neuropathic pain and investigated the neural mechanisms involved. A better understanding of this phenomenon is an important prerequisite for the development of improved treatment of patients affected.

Keywords: Neuropathic pain; Spinal nerve ligation; Recognition memory; Cognitive flexibility; Synaptophysin


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About the article

Pharmacology and Therapeutics, School of Medicine, National University of Ireland, Galway, University Road, Galway, Ireland.Tel.: +353 91 495280; fax: +353 91 495586

Received: 2015-05-22

Revised: 2015-09-29

Published Online: 2016-01-01

Published in Print: 2016-01-01

Disclosures: This work was supported through the National Biophotonics and Imaging Platform, Ireland, and funded by the Irish Government’s Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions, Cycle 4, Ireland’s EU Structural Funds Programmes 2007–2013. The funding agency played no part in study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; or in the decision to submit the article for publication.

Conflicts of interest: The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

Citation Information: Scandinavian Journal of Pain, Volume 10, Issue 1, Pages 61–73, ISSN (Online) 1877-8879, ISSN (Print) 1877-8860, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sjpain.2015.09.008.

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