Increased CCN2, substance P and tissue fibrosis are associated with sensorimotor declines in a rat model of repetitive overuse injury


Paul W. Fisher, Yingjie Zhao, Mario C. Rico, Vicky S. Massicotte, Christine K. Wade, Judith Litvin, Geoffrey M. Bove, Steven N. Popoff, Mary F. Barbe


Key clinical features of cumulative trauma disorders include pain, muscle weakness, and tissue fibrosis, although the etiology is still under investigation. Here, we characterized the temporal pattern of altered sensorimotor behaviors and inflammatory and fibrogenic processes occurring in forearm muscles and serum of young adult, female rats performing an operant, high repetition high force (HRHF) reaching and grasping task for 6, 12, or 18 weeks. Palmar mechanical sensitivity, cold temperature avoidance and spontaneous behavioral changes increased, while grip strength declined, in 18-week HRHF rats, compared to controls. Flexor digitorum muscles had increased MCP-1 levels after training and increased TNFalpha in 6-week HRHF rats. Serum had increased IL-1beta, IL-10 and IP-10 after training. Yet both muscle and serum inflammation resolved by week 18. In contrast, IFNγ increased at week 18 in both muscle and serum. Given the anti-fibrotic role of IFNγ, and to identify a mechanism for the continued grip strength losses and behavioral sensitivities, we evaluated the fibrogenic proteins CCN2, collagen type I and TGFB1, as well as the nociceptive/fibrogenic peptide substance P. Each increased in and around flexor digitorum muscles and extracellular matrix in the mid-forearm, and in nerves of the forepaw at 18 weeks. CCN2 was also increased in serum at week 18. At a time when inflammation had subsided, increases in fibrogenic proteins correlated with sensorimotor declines. Thus, muscle and nerve fibrosis may be critical components of chronic work-related musculoskeletal disorders. CCN2 and substance P may serve as potential targets for therapeutic intervention, and CCN2 as a serum biomarker of fibrosis progression.