BAC induced corneal nerve injury, inflammation and ocular pain.•
Ocular inflammation is associated with activation of FOS and Iba1 in the trigeminal ganglia.
Chronic ocular inflammation increased peripheral and central pro-inflammatory mediators.
Microglial p38 activation occurred in sensory trigeminal complex.
We reported central plastic changes under ocular inflammation.
Ocular surface diseases are among the most frequent ocular pathologies, with prevalence ranging from 20% of the general population. In addition, ocular pain following corneal injury is frequently observed in clinic. The aim of the study was to characterize the peripheral and central neuroinflammatory process in the trigeminal pathways in response to cornea alteration induced by chronic topical instillations of 0.2% benzalkonium chloride (BAC) in male C57BL/6 J mice. In vitroBAC induced neurotoxicity and increases neuronal (FOS, ATF3) and pro-inflammatory (IL-6) markers in primary mouse trigeminal ganglion culture. BAC-treated mice exhibited 7 days after the treatment reduced aqueous tear production and increased inflammatory cell infiltration in the cornea. Hypertonic saline-evoked eye wipe behavior was enhanced in BAC-treated animals that exhibited increased FOS, ATF3 and Iba1 immunoreactivity in the trigeminal ganglion. Ocular inflammation is associated with a significant increase in IL-6 and TNF-α mRNAexpression in the trigeminal ganglion. We reported a strong increase in FOS and Iba1 positive cells in particular in the sensory trigeminal complex at the ipsilateral interpolaris/caudalis (Vi/Vc) transition and Vc/upper cervical cord (Vc/C1) regions. In addition, activated microglial cells were tightly wrapped around activated FOS neurons in both regions and phosphorylated p38 mitogen-activated protein kinasewas markedly enhanced specifically in microglial cells during ocular inflammation. Similar data were obtained in the facial motor nucleus. These neuroanatomical data correlated with the increase in mRNA expression of pro-inflammatory (TNF-α, IL-6, CCL2) and neuronal (FOS and ATF3) markers. Interestingly, the suppression of corneal inflammation 10 days following the end of BAC treatment resulted in a marked attenuation of peripheral and central changes observed in pathological conditions.
This study provides the first demonstration that corneal inflammation induces activation of neurons and microglial p38 MAPK pathway within sensory trigeminal complex. These results suggest that this altered activity in intracellular signaling caused by ocular inflammation might play a priming role in the central sensitization of ocular related brainstem circuits, which represents a significant factor in ocular pain development.