Effect of acetyl-L-carnitine on hypersensitivity in acute recurrent caerulein-induced pancreatitis and microglial activation along the brain's pain circuitry

Sabrina L. McIlwrath, Karin N. Westlund, Marlene E. Starr, Hiroshi Saito, Abigail E. High

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND Acute pancreatitis (AP) and recurring AP are serious health care problems causing excruciating pain and potentially lethal outcomes due to sepsis. The validated caerulein- (CAE) induced mouse model of acute/recurring AP produces secondary persistent hypersensitivity and anxiety-like behavioral changes for study. AIM To determine efficacy of acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC) to reduce pain-related behaviors and brain microglial activation along the pain circuitry in CAE-pancreatitis. METHODS Pancreatitis was induced with 6 hly intraperitoneal (i.p.) injections of CAE (50 μg/kg), 3 d a week for 6 wk in male C57BL/6J mice. Starting in week 4, mice received either vehicle or ALC until experiment's end. Mechanical hypersensitivity was assessed with von Frey filaments. Heat hypersensitivity was determined with the hotplate test. Anxiety-like behavior was tested in week 6 using elevated plus maze and open field tests. Microglial activation in brain was quantified histologically by immunostaining for ionized calcium-binding adaptor molecule 1 (Iba1). RESULTS Mice with CAE-induced pancreatitis had significantly reduced mechanical withdrawal thresholds and heat response latencies, indicating ongoing pain. Treatment with ALC attenuated inflammation-induced hypersensitivity, but hypersensitivity due to abdominal wall injury caused by repeated intraperitoneal injections persisted. Animals with pancreatitis displayed spontaneous anxiety-like behavior in the elevated plus maze compared to controls. Treatment with ALC resulted in increased numbers of rearing activity events, but time spent in "safety"was not changed. After all the abdominal injections, pancreata were translucent if excised at experiment's end and opaque if excised on the subsequent day, indicative of spontaneous healing. Post mortem histopathological analysis performed on pancreas sections stained with Sirius Red and Fast Green identified wide-spread fibrosis and acinar cell atrophy in sections from mice with CAE-induced pancreatitis that was not rescued by treatment with ALC. Microglial Iba1 immunostaining was significantly increased in hippocampus, thalamus (intralaminar nuclei), hypothalamus, and amygdala of mice with CAE-induced pancreatitis compared to naïve controls but unchanged in the primary somatosensory cortex compared to naïves. CONCLUSION CAE-induced pancreatitis caused increased pain-related behaviors, pancreatic fibrosis, and brain microglial changes. ALC alleviated CAE-induced mechanical and heat hypersensitivity but not abdominal wall injury-induced hypersensitivity caused by the repeated injections.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)794-814
Number of pages21
JournalWorld Journal of Gastroenterology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Mar 7 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.


  • Acute recurrent pancreatitis
  • Anxiety-like behavior
  • Heat hypersensitivity
  • Ionized calcium-binding adaptor molecule 1
  • Mechanical hypersensitivity
  • Neuropathic pain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gastroenterology


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