Pain is a dominant symptom of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and its adequate treatment represents a major unmet need. However, the cellular mechanisms that drive arthritis pain are largely unexplored. Here, we examined the changes in the activity of joint sensory neurons and the associated ionic mechanisms using an animal model of antigen-induced arthritis (AIA). Methylated-bovine serum albumin (mBSA), but not vehicle challenge, in the ankle of previously immunized mice produced time-dependent symptoms of arthritis, including joint inflammation, primary mechanical hyperalgesia in the ipsilateral ankle, and secondary mechanical and heat hyperalgesia in the ipsilateral hindpaw. In vivo electrophysiological recordings revealed that Dil-labeled joint sensory neurons in AIA mice exhibited a greater incidence of spontaneous activity, mechanically evoked after-discharges, and/or increased responses to mechanical stimulation of their receptive fields, compared to control animals. Whole-cell recordings in vitro showed that AIA enhanced the excitability of joint sensory neurons. These signs of neuronal hyperexcitability were associated with a significant reduction in the density of A-type K+ currents. Thus, our data suggest that neuronal hyperexcitability, brought about in part by reduced A-type K+ currents, may contribute to pain-related behaviors that accompany antigen-induced arthritis and/or other antigen-mediated diseases.
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