A Guide to Preclinical Models of Zoster-Associated Pain and Postherpetic Neuralgia.

01 Jan 2023
Warner BE, Goins WF, Kramer PR, Kinchington PR

Reactivation of latent varicella-zoster virus (VZV) causes herpes zoster (HZ), which is commonly accompanied by acute pain and pruritus over the time course of a zosteriform rash. Although the rash and associated pain are self-limiting, a considerable fraction of HZ cases will subsequently develop debilitating chronic pain states termed postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). How VZV causes acute pain and the mechanisms underlying the transition to PHN are far from clear. The human-specific nature of VZV has made in vivo modeling of pain following reactivation difficult to study because no single animal can reproduce reactivated VZV disease as observed in the clinic. Investigations of VZV pathogenesis following primary infection have benefited greatly from human tissues harbored in immune-deficient mice, but modeling of acute and chronic pain requires an intact nervous system with the capability of transmitting ascending and descending sensory signals. Several groups have found that subcutaneous VZV inoculation of the rat induces prolonged and measurable changes in nociceptive behavior, indicating sensitivity that partially mimics the development of mechanical allodynia and thermal hyperalgesia seen in HZ and PHN patients. Although it is not a model of reactivation, the rat is beginning to inform how VZV infection can evoke a pain response and induce long-lasting alterations to nociception. In this review, we will summarize the rat pain models from a practical perspective and discuss avenues that have opened for testing of novel treatments for both zoster-associated pain and chronic PHN conditions, which remain in critical need of effective therapies.