Background: Most people are initially infected with varicella zoster virus (VZV) at a young age and this infection results in chickenpox. VZV then becomes latent and reactivates later in life resulting in herpes zoster (HZ) or "shingles". Often VZV infects neurons of the trigeminal ganglia to cause ocular problems, orofacial disease and occasionally a chronic pain condition termed post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). To date, no model has been developed to study orofacial pain related to varicella zoster. Importantly, the incidence of zoster associated pain and PHN is known to be higher in women, although reasons for this sex difference remain unclear. Prior to this work, no animal model was available to study these sex-differences. Our goal was to develop an orofacial animal model for zoster associated pain which could be utilized to study the mechanisms contributing to this sex difference. Methods: To develop this model VZV was injected into the whisker pad of rats resulting in IE62 protein expression in the trigeminal ganglia; IE62 is an immediate early gene in the VZV replication program. Results: Similar to PHN patients, rats showed retraction of neurites after VZV infection. Treatment of rats with gabapentin, an agent often used to combat PHN, ameliorated the pain response after whisker pad injection. Aversive behavior was significantly greater for up to 7 weeks in VZV injected rats over control inoculated rats. Sex differences were also seen such that ovariectomized and intact female rats given the lower dose of VZV showed a longer affective response than male rats. The phase of the estrous cycle also affected the aversive response suggesting a role for sex steroids in modulating VZV pain. Conclusions: These results suggest that this rat model can be utilized to study the mechanisms of 1) orofacial zoster associated pain and 2) the sex differences underlying zoster associated pain.
Stinson, C., Deng, M., Yee, M. B., Bellinger, L. L., Kinchington, P. R., & Kramer, P. R. (2017). Sex differences underlying orofacial varicella zoster associated pain in rats. BMC Neurology, 17(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12883-017-0882-6