Blood cells, molecules & diseases

Modulation of pain in pediatric sickle cell disease: understanding the balance between endothelin mediated vasoconstriction and apelin mediated vasodilation.

PMID 25486928


Children with sickle cell disease (SCD) have painful vaso-occlusive episodes (VOEs), which often reoccur across the individual's lifespan. Vaso-constrictive and vaso-dilatory molecules have been hypothesized to play a role in VOEs. Endothelin-1 (ET-1) is a potent vasoconstrictor that is released during VOEs and is correlated with pain history. Apelin is a vaso-dilatory peptide that also has a modulatory role in pain processing. We hypothesize that the ratio between vaso-dilatory and vaso-constrictive tone in children with SCD may be a marker of pain sensitization and vaso-occlusion. Plasma endothelin and apelin levels were measured in 47 children with SCD. Procedural pain and baseline pain were assessed via child- and caregiver-reports and observational distress. Pain history was assessed using retrospective chart review. Plasma apelin was related to age, with decreased levels in older children. The ratio between apelin and ET-1 was negatively correlated to observational baseline pain. The ratio between apelin and Big ET was negatively correlated to caregiver ratings of baseline pain and positively correlated to history of VOEs, which is possibly due to hydroxyurea treatment. These results suggest that an imbalance in the apelin and endothelin systems may contribute to an increasing number of VOEs and baseline pain in children with SCD.