DURHAM, N.C. -- A newly developed animal model for the painful nerve condition known as sciatica should help researchers diagnose and treat it, according to Duke University bioengineers and surgeons.
Sciatica is not a single disorder, but rather a diverse range of symptoms, such as numbness or pain from the lower back to the feet, radiating leg pain or difficulty in controlling the leg. It is often caused by compression, or pinching, of any of the five nerve roots that combine to make up the sciatic nerve. These roots are the parts of the nerve that pass through openings in the spine to the spinal cord.
Surgical simulation of nerve compression in rats was led by Mohammed Shamji, a neurosurgery resident and recent Ph.D. graduate working in the laboratory of senior researcher Lori Setton, professor of biomedical engineering and surgery at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering. Shamji and post-doctoral research fellow Kyle Allen observed that the animals' gait became asymmetric, and that they over-responded to temperature changes and touch in their limbs after the surgery.
They also found, for the first time, that the physical symptoms experienced by the affected animals seemed to be linked to an increase in levels of interleukin-17 (IL-17), a protein involved in regulating the inflammatory response. Elevated levels of IL-17 have already been implicated in such autoimmune diseases as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.
"This finding suggests a possible role for immune system activation in contributing to symptoms of sciatica," said Shamji, now completing his neurosurgical residency at the Ottawa Hospital in Canada. "This offers new insight into the pathophysiology of the disease, and may also identify novel therapeutic targets to treat it."
The results of Shamji's and Allen's experiments were published online in the journal Spine.
"If immune system activation is involved, and it turns out to be an important
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