Oleanolic acid administration alleviates neuropathic pain after a peripheral nerve injury by regulating microglia polarization-mediated neuroinflammation
Neuropathic pain caused by a peripheral nerve injury constitutes a great challenge in clinical treatments due to the unsatisfactory efficacy of the current strategy. Microglial activation-mediated neuroinflammation is a major characteristic of neuropathic pain. Oleanolic acid is a natural triterpenoid in food and medical plants, and fulfills pleiotropic functions in inflammatory diseases. Nevertheless, its role in neuropathic pain remains poorly elucidated. In the current study, oleanolic acid dose-dependently suppressed LPS-evoked IBA-1 expression (a microglial marker) without cytotoxicity to microglia, suggesting the inhibitory efficacy of oleanolic acid in microglial activation. Moreover, oleanolic acid incubation offset LPS-induced increases in the iNOS transcript and NO releases from microglia, concomitant with the decreases in pro-inflammatory cytokine transcripts and production including IL-6, IL-1β, and TNF-α. Simultaneously, oleanolic acid shifted the microglial polarization from the M1 phenotype to the M2 phenotype upon LPS conditions by suppressing LPS-induced M1 marker CD16, CD86 transcripts, and enhancing the M2 marker Arg-1 mRNA and anti-inflammatory IL-10 levels. In addition, the LPS-induced activation of TLR4-NF-κB signaling was suppressed in the microglia after the oleanolic acid treatment. Restoring this signaling by the TLR4 plasmid transfection overturned the suppressive effects of oleanolic acid on microglial polarization-evoked inflammation. In vivo, oleanolic acid injection alleviated allodynia and hyperalgesia in SNL-induced neuropathic pain mice. Concomitantly, oleanolic acid facilitated microglial polarization to M2, accompanied by inhibition in inflammatory cytokine levels and activation of TLR4-NF-κB signaling. Collectively, these findings confirm that oleanolic acid may ameliorate neuropathic pain by promoting microglial polarization from pro-inflammatory M1 to anti-inflammatory M2 phenotype via the TLR4-NF-κB pathway, thereby indicating its usefulness as therapeutic intervention in neuropathic pain.