J Neurosci 2018 07 6;38(27):6090-6101. Epub 2018 Jun 6.
Fels Institute for Cancer Research and Molecular Biology, Lewis Katz School of Medicine, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19140 and
Nerve injury-induced hyperactivity of primary sensory neurons in the dorsal root ganglion (DRG) contributes to chronic pain development, but the underlying epigenetic mechanisms remain poorly understood. Here we determined genome-wide changes in DNA methylation in the nervous system in neuropathic pain. Spinal nerve ligation (SNL), but not paclitaxel treatment, in male Sprague Dawley rats induced a consistent low-level hypomethylation in the CpG sites in the DRG during the acute and chronic phases of neuropathic pain. DNA methylation remodeling in the DRG occurred early after SNL and persisted for at least 3 weeks. SNL caused DNA methylation changes at 8% of CpG sites with prevailing hypomethylation outside of CpG islands, in introns, intergenic regions, and repetitive sequences. In contrast, SNL caused more gains of methylation in the spinal cord and prefrontal cortex. The DNA methylation changes in the injured DRGs recapitulated developmental reprogramming at the neonatal stage. Methylation reprogramming was correlated with increased gene expression variability. A diet deficient in methyl donors induced hypomethylation and pain hypersensitivity. Intrathecal administration of the DNA methyltransferase inhibitor RG108 caused long-lasting pain hypersensitivity. DNA methylation reprogramming in the DRG thus contributes to nerve injury-induced chronic pain. Restoring DNA methylation may represent a new therapeutic approach to treat neuropathic pain. Epigenetic mechanisms are critically involved in the transition from acute to chronic pain after nerve injury. However, genome-wide changes in DNA methylation in the nervous system and their roles in neuropathic pain development remain unclear. Here we used digital restriction enzyme analysis of methylation to quantitatively determine genome-wide DNA methylation changes caused by nerve injury. We showed that nerve injury caused DNA methylation changes at 8% of CpG sites with prevailing hypomethylation outside of CpG islands in the dorsal root ganglion. Reducing DNA methylation induced pain hypersensitivity, whereas increasing DNA methylation attenuated neuropathic pain. These findings extend our understanding of the epigenetic mechanism of chronic neuropathic pain and suggest new strategies to treat nerve injury-induced chronic pain.