Alleviation of chronic neuropathic pain by environmental enrichment in mice well after the establishment of chronic pain

Pascal Vachon, Magali Millecamps, Lucie Low, Scott J. Thompsosn, Floriane Pailleux, Francis Beaudry, Catherine M. Bushnell, Laura S. Stone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Background: In animal models, the impact of social and environmental manipulations on chronic pain have been investigated in short term studies where enrichment was implemented prior to or concurrently with the injury. The focus of this study was to evaluate the impact of environmental enrichment or impoverishment in mice three months after induction of chronic neuropathic pain.Methods: Thirty-four CD-1 seven to eight week-old male mice were used. Mice underwent surgery on the left leg under isoflurane anesthesia to induce the spared nerve injury model of neuropathic pain or sham condition. Mice were then randomly assigned to one of four groups: nerve injury with enriched environment (n = 9), nerve injury with impoverished environment (n = 8), sham surgery with enriched environment (n = 9), or sham surgery with impoverished environment (n = 8). The effects of environmental manipulations on mechanical (von Frey filaments) heat (hot plate) and cold (acetone test) cutaneous hypersensitivities, motor impairment (Rotarod), spontaneous exploratory behavior (open field test), anxiety-like behavior (elevated plus maze) and depression-like phenotype (tail suspension test) were assessed in neuropathic and control mice 1 and 2 months post-environmental change. Finally, the effect of the environment on spinal expression of the pro-nociceptive neuropeptides substance P and CGRP form the lumbar spinal cord collected at the end of the study was evaluated by tandem liquid chromatography mass spectrometry.Results: Environmental enrichment attenuated nerve injury-induced hypersensitivity to mechanical and cold stimuli. In contrast, an impoverished environment exacerbated mechanical hypersensitivity. No antidepressant effects of enrichment were observed in animals with chronic neuropathic pain. Finally, environmental enrichment resulted lower SP and CGRP concentrations in neuropathic animals compared to impoverishment. These effects were all observed in animals that had been neuropathic for several months prior to intervention.Conclusions: These results suggest that environmental factors could play an important role in the rehabilitation of chronic pain patients well after the establishment of chronic pain. Enrichment is a potentially inexpensive, safe and easily implemented non-pharmacological intervention for the treatment of chronic pain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number22
JournalBehavioral and Brain Functions
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 7 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Animal model
  • Chronic neuropathic pain
  • Environmental enrichment
  • Environmental impoverishment
  • Spared nerve injury

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