Neuropathic pain affects millions of people worldwide, yet the molecular mechanisms of how it develops and persists are poorly understood. Given that males have historically been utilized as the primary sex in preclinical studies, less is known about the female neuroinflammatory response to injury, formation of pain, or response to pain-relieving therapies. Macrophages contribute to the development of neuroinflammatory pain via the activation of their cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) enzyme, which leads to the production of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2). PGE2 activates nociception and influences additional leukocyte infiltration. Attenuation of COX-2 activity decreases inflammatory pain, most commonly achieved by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), yet NSAIDs are considered ineffective for neuropathic pain due to off target toxicity. Using chronic constriction injury of the rat sciatic nerve, we show that males and females exhibit quantitatively the same degree of mechanical allodynia post injury. Furthermore, a low-dose nanotherapeutic containing the NSAID celecoxib is phagocytosed by circulating monocytes that then naturally accumulate at sites of injury as macrophages.
Using this nanotherapeutic, we show that treated males exhibit complete reversal of hypersensitivity, while the same dose of nanotherapeutic in females provides an attenuated relief. The difference in behavioral response to the nanotherapy is reflected in the reduction of infiltrating macrophages at the site of injury. The observations contained in this study reinforce the notion that female neuroinflammation is different than males.