Low back pain and disc degeneration are decreased following chronic toll-like receptor 4 inhibition in a mouse model

Emerson Krock, Magali Millecamps, J. Brooke Currie, Laura S. Stone, Lisbet Haglund

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Objective: Intervertebral disc degeneration is a leading cause of chronic low back pain (LBP) but current treatment is limited. Toll-like receptors (TLRs) on disc cells are activated by endogenous extracellular matrix (ECM) fragments and modulate degeneration in vitro. This study investigated whether inhibiting TLR4 slows disc degeneration and reduces behavioral signs of LBP in vivo. Design: 7–9-month old wild-type and secreted protein acidic and rich in cysteine (SPARC)-null (a model of disc degeneration and LBP) male mice were treated with TAK-242 (TLR4 inhibitor) once, and following a 10-day washout, mice were treated 3 times/week for 8 weeks. Behavioral signs of axial discomfort and radiating leg pain were assessed weekly with the grip force assay and acetone test, respectively. Following treatment, pain-related spinal cord changes were evaluated and lumbar discs were excised and cultured. Cytokine secretion from discs was evaluated with protein arrays. Results: SPARC-null mice displayed elevated signs of axial and radiating pain at baseline compared to wild-type. Chronic, but not acute, TLR4 inhibition reduced behavioral signs of pain compared to vehicle. SPARC-null mice have increased calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP)- and glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP)-immunoreactivity (astrocyte marker) in the dorsal horn compared to wild-type, which is reduced by chronic TLR4 inhibition. Ex vivo degenerating discs from SPARC-null mice secrete increased levels of many pro-inflammatory cytokines, which chronic TLR4 inhibition reduced. Conclusion: Chronic TLR4 inhibition decreased behavioral signs of LBP, pain-related neuroplasticity and disc inflammation in SPARC-null mice. TAK-242 inhibits TLR4 activation within discs, as evidenced by decreases in cytokine release. Therefore, TLRs are potential therapeutic targets to slow disc degeneration and reduce pain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1236-1246
Number of pages11
JournalOsteoarthritis and Cartilage
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) operating grants to LH and LSS ( PJT-148678 and MOP-142291 ), a CIHR operating grant to LSS and MM ( MOP-126046 ), a Fonds de recherche du Québec – Santé (FRQS) Doctoral Award to EK and Faculty of Medicine and Le Réseau de recherche en santé buccodentaire et osseuse (RSBO) studentships to JBC.


  • Astrocyte
  • CGRP
  • Chronic low back pain
  • Pain behavior
  • Sterile inflammation
  • TAK-242

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