Objective: To study the mechanisms that are involved in nerve growth and contribute to pain generation in chronic pancreatitis (CP). Summary Background Data: Chronic pancreatitis is a painful disease associated with characteristic nerve changes, including an increase in nerve number and diameter. The mechanisms that influence nerve growth are not known. Nerve growth factor (NGF) and its high-affinity tyrosine kinase receptor A (TrkA) are involved in neural development and survival and growth of central and peripheral nerves. Methods: Nerve growth factor and TrkA were investigated by Northern blot analysis, in situ hybridization, and immunohistochemical staining in the pancreases of 24 patients with CP, and the findings were correlated with clinical parameters. Results: By Northern blot analysis, NGF and TrkA mRNA expression were increased in 42% (13.1-fold) and 54% (5.5-fold) of the CP samples (p < 0.01), respectively. In situ hybridization revealed that in CP, enhanced NGF mRNA expression was present in metaplastic ductal cells, in degenerating acinar cells, and in acinar cells dedifferentiating into tubular structures. TrkA mRNA was intensely present in the perineurium. Further, enhanced NGF and TrkA mRNA signals were also present in intrapancreatic ganglia cells in CP samples. Immunohistochemistry confirmed the in situ hybridization findings. Analysis of the molecular findings with clinical parameters revealed a significant relation (p < 0.05) between NGF mRNA levels and pancreatic fibrosis (r = 0.64) and acinar cell damage (r = 0.74) and between TrkA mRNA and pain intensity (r = 0.84). Conclusion: Activation of the NGF/TrkA pathway occurs in CP. It might influence neural morphologic changes and the pain syndrome in this disorder.
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