Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a highly disabling cause of pain often precipitated by surgery or trauma to a limb. Both innate and adaptive immunological changes contribute to this syndrome. Dimethyl fumarate (DMF) works through the nuclear factor erythroid 2–related factor 2 (Nrf2) transcription factor and other targets to activate antioxidant systems and to suppress immune system activation. We hypothesized that DMF would reduce nociceptive, functional, and immunological changes measured in a model of CRPS.
Male C57BL/6 mice were used in the well-characterized tibial fracture model of CRPS. Some groups of mice received DMF 25 mg/kg/d orally, per os for 3 weeks after fracture versus vehicle alone. Homozygous Nrf2 null mutant mice were used as test subjects to address the need for this transcription factor for DMF activity. Allodynia was assessed using von Frey filaments and hindlimb weight-bearing data were collected. The markers of oxidative stress malondialdehyde (MDA) and 4-hydroxynonenal (4-HNE) were quantified in the skin of the fractured mice using immunoassays along with the innate immune system cytokines IL-1β and IL-6. The accumulation of IgM in the fractured limbs and lymph node hypertrophy were used as indexes of adaptive immune system activation, and the passive transfer of serum from wildtype fractured mice to B cell–deficient fractured muMT mice (mice lacking B cells and immunoglobulin) helped to assess the pronociceptive activity of humoral factors.
We observed that oral DMF administration strongly prevented nociceptive sensitization and reduced uneven hindlimb weight bearing after fracture. DMF was also very effective in reducing the accumulation of markers of oxidative stress, activation of innate immune mediator production, lymph node hypertrophy, and the accumulation of IgM in fractured limbs. The sera of fractured vehicle-treated but not DMF-treated mice conferred pronociceptive activity to recipient mice. Unexpectedly, the effects of DMF were largely unchanged in the Nrf2 null mutant mice.
Oxidative stress and immune system activation are robust after hindlimb fracture in mice. DMF strongly reduces activation of those systems, and the Nrf2 transcription factor is not required. DMF or drugs working through similar mechanisms might provide effective therapy for CRPS or other conditions where oxidative stress causes immune system activation.