Sparcl1/Hevin drives pathological pain through spinal cord astrocyte and NMDA receptor signaling.


Hevin/Sparcl1 is an astrocyte-secreted protein and regulates synapse formation. Here we show that astrocytic hevin signaling plays a critical role in maintaining chronic pain. Compared to wild-type mice, hevin-null mice exhibited normal mechanical and heat sensitivity but reduced inflammatory pain. Interestingly, hevin-null mice have faster recovery than wild-type mice from neuropathic pain after nerve injury. Intrathecal injection of wild-type hevin was sufficient to induce persistent mechanical allodynia in naïve mice. In hevin-null mice with nerve injury, AAV-mediated re-expression of hevin in GFAP-expressing spinal cord astrocytes could reinstate neuropathic pain. Mechanistically, hevin is crucial for spinal cord NMDA receptor (NMDAR) signaling. Hevin potentiated NMDA currents mediated by the GluN2B-containing NMDARs. Furthermore, intrathecal injection of a neutralizing antibody against hevin alleviated acute and persistent inflammatory pain, postoperative pain, and neuropathic pain. Secreted hevin was detected in mouse cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and nerve injury significantly increased CSF hevin abundance. Finally, neurosurgery caused rapid and substantial increases in SPARCL1/HEVIN levels in human CSF. Collectively, our findings support a critical role of hevin and astrocytes in the maintenance of chronic pain. Neutralizing of secreted hevin with monoclonal antibody may provide a new therapeutic strategy for treating acute and chronic pain and NMDAR-medicated neurodegeneration.





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Publication Info

Chen, Gang, Jing Xu, Hao Luo, Xin Luo, Sandeep K Singh, Juan J Ramirez, Michael L James, Joseph P Mathew, et al. (2022). Sparcl1/Hevin drives pathological pain through spinal cord astrocyte and NMDA receptor signaling. JCI insight. p. e161028. 10.1172/jci.insight.161028 Retrieved from

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Michael Lucas James

Professor of Anesthesiology

With a clinical background in neuroanesthesia and neurointensive care, I have a special interest in translational research in intracerebral hemorrhage and traumatic brain injury. I am fortunate to be part of a unique team of highly motivated and productive individuals who allow me to propel ideas from bench to bedside and the ability to reverse translate ideas from the bedside back to the bench.


Joseph P. Mathew

Jerry Reves, M.D. Distinguished Professor of Cardiac Anesthesiology

Current research interests include:
1. The relationship between white matter patency, functional connectivity (fMRI) and neurocognitive function following cardiac surgery.
2. The relationship between global and regional cortical beta-amyloid deposition and postoperative cognitive decline.
3. The effect of lidocaine infusion upon neurocognitive function following cardiac surgery.
4. The association between genotype and outcome after cardiac surgery.
5. Atrial fibrillation following cardiopulmonary bypass.


Miles Berger

Associate Professor of Anesthesiology

My research team focuses on 3 areas:

1) We are interested in the mechanisms of postoperative neurocognitive disorders such as delirium, and the relationship between these disorders and Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementias (ADRD). Towards these ends, we use a combination of methods including pre and postoperative CSF and blood sampling, functional neuroimaging, EEG recordings, rigorous biochemical assays, and cognitive testing and delirium screening. In the long run, this work has the potential to help us improve long term neurocognitive outcomes for the more than 20 million Americans over age 60 who undergo anesthesia and surgery each year.

2) We are interested in the idea that altered anesthetic-induced brain EEG waveforms can serve as indicators of specific types of preclinical/prodromal neurodegenerative disease pathology, specific cognitive domain deficits, and postoperative delirium risk. We are studying this topic in the ALADDIN study, a 250 patient prospective cohort study in older surgical patients at Duke. Many people have viewed anesthesia and surgery as a "stress test" for the aging brain; we hope that this work will help us learn how to develop a real-time EEG readout of this "perioperative stress test" for the aging brain, just as ECG analysis can provide a real-time readout of cardiac treadmill stress tests. 

3) We are interested in how the APOE4 allele damages brain circuitry throughout the adult lifespan, and how this contributes to increased risk of late onset Alzheimer's disease as well as worse outcomes following other acute brain disorders such as stroke and traumatic brain injury (TBI). In particular, we are investigating the hypothesis that the APOE4 allele leads to increased CNS complement activation throughout adult life, which then contributes to increased synaptic phagocytosis and long term neurocognitive decline. We are also studying whether acutely modulating APOE signaling in older surgical patients with the APOE mimetic peptide CN-105 is sufficient to block postoperative CSF neuroinflammation and complement activation. 

Our work is transdisciplinary, and thus our team includes individuals with diverse scientific and clinical backgrounds, ranging from neuropsychology and neuroimaging to proteomics, flow cytometry and behavioral neuroscience in animal models. What unites us is the desire to better understand mechanisms of age-dependent brain dysfunction, both in the perioperative setting and in APOE4 carriers. 


Cagla Eroglu

Chancellor's Distinguished Professor of Cell Biology

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