Evaluation of behavior in transgenic mouse models to understand human congenital pain conditions
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BACKGROUND: Containing a brain for signal processing and decision making, and a peripheral component for sensation and response, the nervous system provides higher organisms a powerful method of interacting with their environment. The specific neurons involved in pain sensation are known as nociceptors and are the source of normal nociceptive pain signaling to prompt appropriate responses. Though acute hypersensitization can be advantageous by encouraging an organism to allow an injured area to heal, chronic pain conditions can be pathological and can markedly reduce quality of life. While a variety of genes have been associated with congenital pain conditions, two rare cases examined in this study have not had their mutated genes identified. Potassium voltage-gated channel subfamily H member 8, or KCNH8, is involved in regulating action potential production and propagation, and has not been linked with pain processing of any kind to date. Here, a male patient evaluated at Boston Children’s Hospital contains a novel single-base KCNH8 mutation and possesses an extremely low sensitivity to cold temperatures and mechanical pain, but a higher sensitivity to warmer temperatures. A separate protein, intersectin-2, or ITSN2, normally functions in clathrin-mediated endocytosis and exocytosis. A second patient at Boston Children’s Hospital expresses a previously-unseen point mutation in ITSN2 and experiences erythromelalgia, characterized by episodes of intense pain and red, swollen limbs during ambient warm temperatures. Through the use of Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR)/Cas9 genome editing, this study will produce these specific genetic mutations in mouse lines to explore their effects on mammalian behavior. OBJECTIVES: This project employs two transgenic mouse models to study the behavioral phenotypes associated with rare potentially damaging mutations in KCNH8 and ITSN2 exhibited in the human patients. Through these experiments, a greater understanding of neural pain signaling and sensitivity changes can occur. METHODS: The differences in temperature preference of KCNH8 and ITSN2 mutant mice compared to wild type mice lacking these mutations was studied using thermal plates under cold and warm conditions. Direct application of acetone and von Frey filaments to mouse paws was used to study cold and mechanical sensitivity. Further testing of stamina, anxiety, coordination, and strength were also evaluated. RESULTS: A marked decrease in sensitivity to von Frey stimulation (p<0.01) and acetone administration (p<0.05) was observed in KCNH8 mutant mice. Thermal preference testing demonstrated a decreased preference for warmer temperatures as compared to wild type mice. In addition, anxiety levels were also observed to be slightly higher in these mutant KCNH8 mice (p<0.05). The mutant ITSN2 mice spent less time at cooler temperatures, though surprisingly they significantly preferred warmer conditions as compared to their wild type littermates. A full and partial reversal of these temperature preferences was demonstrated in cold and heat thermal conditions respectively after intraperitoneal gabapentin injection, which normalized the mice toward wild type behavior. CONCLUSIONS: Data from the KCNH8 mutant mouse model indicates an aversion to warmer temperatures and a decreased ability to detect cold or mechanical pressure, much like the human patient. The mutant ITSN2 mice were less likely to spend time at cooler temperatures, indicating heightened sensory sensitivity, but their preference for warmer temperatures suggests a possible desensitization of the affected nociceptors. These results often mirror the patient’s phenotype, but the preference for ambient warmer environments appears opposite to the patient. As the ITSN2 mice feel discomfort at cooler temperatures, a proposed desensitization at warmer temperatures would result in a more comfortable environment and could explain the observed preference. The trends toward normal neural firing rates achieved through gabapentin injection suggest that the aberrant responses in mutant ITSN2 mice is due to altered sensitization, but additional examination under these conditions with a larger group of mice is necessary to further unravel these signaling pathways. However, these extremely encouraging data introduce two new molecular targets for acute pain control.