Cytotoxic effect of commercially available methylprednisolone acetate with and without reduced preservatives on dorsal root ganglion sensory neurons in rats

Nebojsa Nick Knezevic, Kenneth D. Candido, Ivan Cokic, Aleksandar Krbanjevic, Sarah L. Berth, Ivana Knezevic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Epidural and intrathecal injections of methylprednisolone acetate (MPA) have become the most commonly performed interventional procedures in the United States and worldwide in the last 2 decades. However neuraxial MPA injection has been dogged by controversy regarding the presence of different additives used in commercially prepared glucocorticoids. We previously showed that MPA could be rendered 85% free of polyethylene glycol (PEG) by a simple physical separation of elements in the suspension.

Objective: The objective of the present study was to explore a possible cytotoxic effect of commercially available MPA (with intact or reduced preservatives) on rat sensory neurons.

Methods: We exposed primary dissociated rat dorsal root ganglia (DRG) sensory neurons to commercially available MPA for 24 hours with either the standard (commercial) concentration of preservatives or to different fractions following separation (MPA suspension whose preservative concentration had been reduced, or fractions containing higher concentrations of preservatives). Cells were stained with the TUNEL assay kit to detect apoptotic cells and images were taken on the Bio-Rad Laser Sharp-2000 system. We also detected expression of caspase-3, as an indicator of apoptosis in cell lysates.

Results: We exposed sensory neurons from rat DRG to different concentrations of MPA from the original commercially prepared vial. TUNEL assay showed dose-related responses and increased percentages of apoptotic cells with increasing concentrations of MPA. Increased concentrations of MPA caused 1.5 – 2 times higher caspase-3 expression in DRG sensory neurons than in control cells (ANOVA, P = 0.001). Our results showed that MPA with reduced preservatives caused significantly less apoptosis observed with TUNEL assay labeling (P < 0.001) and caspase-3 immunoblotting (P ≤ 0.001) than in neurons exposed to MPA from a commercially prepared vial or “clear phase” that contained higher concentrations of preservatives. Even though MPA with reduced preservatives caused 12.5% more apoptosis in DRG sensory neurons than in control cells, post hoc analysis showed no differences between these 2 groups.

Limitations: Our data was collected from in vitro isolated rat DRG neurons. There is a possibility that in vivo neurons have different extents of vulnerability compared to isolated neurons.

Conclusions: Results of the present study identified a cytotoxic effect of commercially available MPA with preservatives or with a “clear phase” containing higher concentrations of preservatives on primary isolated rat DRG sensory neurons. This was shown by TUNEL positive assay and by increased caspase-3 expression as one of the final executing steps in apoptotic pathways in DRG neurons. However, our results showed no statistically significant difference between the control cells (salinetreated) and cells treated with MPA with reduced concentrations of preservatives, pointing out that either PEG or myristylgamma-picolinium chloride (MGPC) or their combination have harmful effects on these cells. Reduction of concentrations of preservatives from commercially available MPA suspensions by using the simple method of inverting vials for 2 hours could be considered useful in clinical practice to enhance the safety of this depot steroid when injected neuraxially.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E609-E618
JournalPain physician
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Cytotoxic effect
  • Dorsal root ganglion sensory neurons
  • Methylprednisolone acetate
  • Myristylgamma-picolinium chloride
  • Polyethylene glycol
  • Preservatives

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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