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Original Research, Animal Studies, Basic Neurobiology, Psychology

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Corticotropin-releasing factor is involved in acute stress-induced analgesia and antipruritus.

Under the condition of stress, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis) is activated and causes the secretion of corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF). Previous studies have demonstrated that CRF is involved in the regulation of pain and itch. Thus, it remains worthy to explore whether the desensitization of pain and itch under high-intensity acute stress (such as high fear and tension) is related to the sharp increase of CRF.

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Enriched environment alleviates adolescent visceral pain, anxiety- and depression-like behaviors induced by neonatal maternal separation.

Neonatal maternal separation (NMS), a major kind of early life stress, increases the risk of visceral pain, anxiety- and depression-like behaviors in adulthood. An enriched environment (EE) has been shown to successfully rescue the brain from various early life psychological stressors. Therefore, this study aimed to investigate whether NMS induces visceral pain, anxiety- and depression-like behaviors in adolescents and to evaluate the impact of EE in infancy on these symptoms.

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Sound induces analgesia through corticothalamic circuits.

Sound-including music and noise-can relieve pain in humans, but the underlying neural mechanisms remain unknown. We discovered that analgesic effects of sound depended on a low (5-decibel) signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) relative to ambient noise in mice. Viral tracing, microendoscopic calcium imaging, and multitetrode recordings in freely moving mice showed that low-SNR sounds inhibited glutamatergic inputs from the auditory cortex (ACx) to the thalamic posterior (PO) and ventral posterior (VP) nuclei. Optogenetic or chemogenetic inhibition of the ACx→PO and ACx→VP circuits mimicked the low-SNR sound-induced analgesia in inflamed hindpaws and forepaws, respectively. Artificial activation of these two circuits abolished the sound-induced analgesia. Our study reveals the corticothalamic circuits underlying sound-promoted analgesia by deciphering the role of the auditory system in pain processing.

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Overexpression of GRK6 alleviates chronic visceral hypersensitivity through downregulation of P2Y6 receptors in anterior cingulate cortex of rats with prenatal maternal stress.

Visceral hypersensitivity is a major clinic symptom in patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is involved in processing the information of pain. Both G protein-coupled receptor kinase 6 (GRK6) and P2Y purinoceptor 6 (P2Y6) are associated with neuroinflammation and pathological pain. The aim of this study was to investigate the interaction between GRK6 and P2Y6 in ACC in the development of visceral hypersensitivity of adult offspring rats with prenatal maternal stress (PMS).

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Trigeminal neuropathic pain reduces 50-kHz ultrasonic vocalizations in rats, which are restored by analgesic drugs.

Trigeminal neuralgia (TN) is a severe form of neuropathic pain frequently associated with anxiety. The chronic constriction injury of the infraorbital nerve (CCI-ION) of rodents is a well-established model to study sensory alterations related to TN. However, few studies have addressed the emotional component of pain, which is fundamental to increase its translational capability. Emission of ultrasonic vocalization (USV) is considered a reliable measure of the emotional state of rats. Rats emit 50-kHz USVs in social and appetitive situations, whereas 22-kHz USVs may index a negative state. Studies suggest that persistent pain causes reduction in 50-kHz calls, but this may also indicate anxiety-like behavior. Thus, we hypothesize that CCI-ION would decrease 50-kHz calls and that pharmacological pain relief would restore USVs, without interfering with anxiety-like behavior. On day 15 after surgery, male rats were treated with local lidocaine, midazolam or carbamazepine to determine their effect on facial mechanical hyperalgesia, USV and anxiety-like behavior. The results showed that CCI-ION induced hyperalgesia, which was attenuated by lidocaine or carbamazepine, developed anxiety-like behavior, which was reduced only by midazolam, and displayed a reduced number of 50-kHz calls, compared to sham. Lidocaine and carbamazepine increased 50-kHz calls emitted by CCI-ION rats, but midazolam failed to change them. These data add information on the translational aspects of CCI-ION model and carbamazepine treatment for trigeminal neuropathic pain. Furthermore, they suggest that the reduction of USV in persistent pain conditions is related to spontaneous pain and reinforce the idea that it reflects the emotional component of pain.

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Contextual control of conditioned pain tolerance and endogenous analgesic systems.

The mechanisms underlying the transition from acute to chronic pain are unclear but may involve the persistence or strengthening of pain memories acquired in part through associative learning. Contextual cues, which comprise the environment in which events occur, were recently described as a critical regulator of pain memory; both male rodents and humans exhibit increased pain sensitivity in environments recently associated with a single painful experience. It is unknown, however, how repeated exposure to an acute painful unconditioned stimulus in a distinct context modifies pain sensitivity or the expectation of pain in that environment. To answer this question, we conditioned mice to associate distinct contexts with either repeated administration of a mild visceral pain stimulus (intraperitoneal injection of acetic acid) or vehicle injection over the course of three days. On the final day of experiments animals received either an acid injection or vehicle injection prior to being placed into both contexts. In this way, contextual control of pain sensitivity and pain expectation could be tested respectively. When re-exposed to the noxious stimulus in a familiar environment, both male and female mice exhibited context-dependent conditioned analgesia, a phenomenon mediated by endogenous opioid signaling. However, when expecting the presentation of a painful stimulus in a given context, males exhibited conditioned hypersensitivity whereas females exhibited endogenous opioid-mediated conditioned analgesia. These results are evidence that pain perception and engagement of endogenous opioid systems can be modified through their psychological association with environmental cues. Successful determination of the brain circuits involved in this sexually dimorphic anticipatory response may allow for the manipulation of pain memories, which may contribute to the development of chronic pain states.

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A nigra-subthalamic circuit is involved in acute and chronic pain states.

The basal ganglia modulate somatosensory pain pathways but it is unclear whether a common circuit exists to mitigate hyperalgesia in pain states induced by peripheral nociceptive stimuli. As a key output nucleus of the basal ganglia, the substantia nigra pars reticulata (SNr) may be a candidate for this role. To test this possibility, we optogenetically modulated SNr GABAergic neurons and examined pain thresholds in freely behaving male mice in inflammatory and neuropathic pain states as well as comorbid depression in chronic pain. We observed that stimulation of either SNr GABAergic neurons or their projections to the subthalamic nucleus (STN) significantly alleviated nociceptive responses in all pain states on the contralateral side and comorbid depression in chronic pain, and that this analgesic effect was eliminated when SNr-STN GABAergic projection was blocked. However, SNr modulation did not affect baseline pain thresholds. We also found that SNr-STN GABAergic projection was attenuated in pain states, resulting in disinhibition of STN neurons. Thus, impairment of the SNr-STN GABAergic circuit may be a common pathophysiology for the maintenance of hyperalgesia in both inflammatory and neuropathic pain states and the comorbid depression in chronic pain; compensating this circuit has potential to effectively treat related pain conditions.

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Brain Functional Alteration at Different Stages of Neuropathic Pain With Allodynia and Emotional Disorders.

Neuropathic pain (NeuP), a challenging medical condition, has been suggested by neuroimaging studies to be associated with abnormalities of neural activities in some brain regions. However, aberrancies in brain functional alterations underlying the sensory-discriminative abnormalities and negative emotions in the setting of NeuP remain unexplored. Here, we aimed to investigate the functional alterations in neural activity relevant to pain as well as pain-related depressive-like and anxiety-like behaviors in NeuP by combining amplitude of low frequency fluctuation (ALFF) and degree centrality (DC) analyses methods based on resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rs-fMRI). A rat model of NeuP was established chronic constriction injury (CCI) of the sciatic nerve. Results revealed that the robust mechanical allodynia occurred early and persisted throughout the entire observational period. Depressive and anxiety-like behaviors did not appear until 4 weeks after injury. When the maximum allodynia was apparent early, CCI rats exhibited decreased ALFF and DC values in the left somatosensory and nucleus accumbens shell (ACbSh), respectively, as compared with sham rats. Both values were significantly positively correlated with mechanical withdrawal thresholds (MWT). At 4 weeks post-CCI, negative emotional states were apparent and CCI rats were noted to exhibit increased ALFF values in the left somatosensory and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) as well as increased DC values in the right motor cortex, as compared with sham rats. At 4 weeks post-CCI, ALFF values in the left somatosensory cortex and DC values in the right motor cortex were noted to negatively correlate with MWT and exhibition of anxiety-like behavior on an open-field test (OFT); values were found to positively correlate with the exhibition of depressive-like behavior on forced swimming test (FST). The mPFC ALFF values were found to negatively correlate with the exhibition of anxiety-like behavior on OFT and positively correlate with the exhibition of depressive-like behavior on FST. Our findings detail characteristic alterations of neural activity patterns induced by chronic NeuP and underscore the important role of the left somatosensory cortex, as well as its related networks, in the mediation of subsequent emotional dysregulation due to NeuP.

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Oxytocin in the anterior cingulate cortex attenuates neuropathic pain and emotional anxiety by inhibiting presynaptic long-term potentiation.

Oxytocin is a well-known neurohypophysial hormone that plays an important role in behavioral anxiety and nociception. Two major forms of long-term potentiation, presynaptic LTP (pre-LTP) and postsynaptic LTP (post-LTP), have been characterized in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Both pre-LTP and post-LTP contribute to chronic-pain-related anxiety and behavioral sensitization. The roles of oxytocin in the ACC have not been studied. Here, we find that microinjections of oxytocin into the ACC attenuate nociceptive responses and anxiety-like behavioral responses in animals with neuropathic pain. Application of oxytocin selectively blocks the maintenance of pre-LTP but not post-LTP. In addition, oxytocin enhances inhibitory transmission and excites ACC interneurons. Similar results are obtained by using selective optical stimulation of oxytocin-containing projecting terminals in the ACC in animals with neuropathic pain. Our results demonstrate that oxytocin acts on central synapses and reduces chronic-pain-induced anxiety by reducing pre-LTP.

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Contribution of AMPA receptor-mediated LTD in LA/BLA-CeA pathway to comorbid aversive and depressive symptoms in neuropathic pain.

Comorbid anxiety and depressive symptoms in chronic pain are a common health problem, but the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. Previously, we have demonstrated that sensitization of the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) neurons via decreased GABAergic inhibition contributes to anxiety-like behaviors in neuropathic pain rats. In this study, by using male Sprague-Dawley rats, we reported that the CeA plays a key role in processing both sensory and negative emotional-affective components of neuropathic pain. Bilateral electrolytic lesions of CeA but not lateral/basolateral nucleus of the amygdala (LA/BLA) abrogated both pain hypersensitivity and aversive and depressive symptoms of neuropathic rats induced by spinal nerve ligation (SNL). Moreover, SNL rats showed structural and functional neuroplasticity manifested as reduced dendritic spines on the CeA neurons and enhanced long-term depression (LTD) at the LA/BLA-CeA synapse. Disruption of GluA2-containing AMPARs trafficking and endocytosis from synapses using synthetic peptides, either pep2-EVKI or Tat-GluA2, restored the enhanced LTD at the LA/BLA-CeA synapse, and alleviated the mechanical allodynia and comorbid aversive and depressive symptoms in neuropathic rats, indicating that the endocytosis of GluA2-containing AMPARs from synapses is probably involved in the LTD at the LA/BLA-CeA synapse and the comorbid aversive and depressive symptoms in neuropathic pain in SNL-operated rats. These data provide a novel mechanism for elucidating comorbid aversive and depressive symptoms in neuropathic pain and highlight that structural and functional neuroplasticity in the amygdala may be important as a promising therapeutic target for comorbid negative emotional-affective disorders in chronic pain.Several studies have demonstrated the high comorbidity of negative affective disorders in patients with chronic pain. Understanding the affective aspects related to chronic pain may facilitate the development of novel therapies for more effective management. Here, we unravel that the CeA plays a key role in processing both sensory and negative emotional-affective components of neuropathic pain, and LTD at the amygdaloid LA/BLA-CeA synapse mediated by GluA2-containing AMPARs endocytosis underlies the comorbid aversive and depressive symptoms in neuropathic pain. This study provides a novel mechanism for elucidating comorbid aversive and depressive symptoms in neuropathic pain and highlights that structural and functional neuroplasticity in the amygdala may be important as a promising therapeutic target for comorbid negative emotional-affective disorders in chronic pain.

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