Microglia are important mediators of neuroinflammation, which underlies neuropathic pain. However, the molecular checkpoints controlling microglial reactivity are not well-understood. Here, we investigated the role of Orai1 channels for microglia-mediated neuroinflammation following nerve injury and find that deletion of Orai1 in microglia attenuates Ca signaling and the production of inflammatory cytokines by proalgesic agonists. Conditional deletion of Orai1 attenuated microglial proliferation in the dorsal horn, spinal cytokine levels, and potentiation of excitatory neurotransmission following peripheral nerve injury. These cellular effects were accompanied by mitigation of pain hyperalgesia in microglial Orai1 knockout mice. A small-molecule Orai1 inhibitor, CM4620, similarly mitigated allodynia in male mice. Unexpectedly, these protective effects were not seen in female mice, revealing sexual dimorphism in Orai1 regulation of microglial reactivity and hyperalgesia. Together, these findings indicate that Orai1 channels are key regulators of the sexually dimorphic role of microglia for the neuroinflammation that underlies neuropathic pain.
Dermal macrophages set pain sensitivity by modulating the amount of tissue NGF through an SNX25-Nrf2 pathway.
Cross-talk between peripheral neurons and immune cells is important in pain sensation. We identified Snx25 as a pain-modulating gene in a transgenic mouse line with reduced pain sensitivity. Conditional deletion of Snx25 in monocytes and macrophages, but not in peripheral sensory neurons, in mice (Snx25 mice) reduced pain responses in both normal and neuropathic conditions. Bone marrow transplantation using Snx25 and wild-type mice indicated that macrophages modulated pain sensitivity. Expression of sorting nexin (SNX)25 in dermal macrophages enhanced expression of the neurotrophic factor NGF through the inhibition of ubiquitin-mediated degradation of Nrf2, a transcription factor that activates transcription of Ngf. As such, dermal macrophages set the threshold for pain sensitivity through the production and secretion of NGF into the dermis, and they may cooperate with dorsal root ganglion macrophages in pain perception.
Microglia, resident macrophages of the central nervous system (CNS), are essential to brain development, homeostasis, and disease. Microglial activation and proliferation are hallmarks of many CNS diseases including neuropathic pain. However, molecular mechanisms that govern the spinal neuro-immune axis in the setting of neuropathic pain remain incompletely understood. Here we show that genetic ablation or pharmacological blockade of transient receptor potential vanilloid type 4 (TRPV4) markedly attenuated neuropathic pain-like behaviors in a mouse model of spared nerve injury. Mechanistically, microglia-expressed TRPV4 mediated microglial activation and proliferation and promoted functional and structural plasticity of excitatory spinal neurons through releasing lipocalin-2. Our results suggest that microglial TRPV4 channels reside at the center of the neuro-immune axis in the spinal cord that transforms peripheral nerve injury into central sensitization and neuropathic pain, thereby identifying TRPV4 as a promising new target for the treatment of chronic pain.
Poor sleep is associated with the risk of developing chronic pain, but how sleep contributes to pain chronicity remains unclear. Here we show that following peripheral nerve injury, cholinergic neurons in the anterior nucleus basalis (aNB) of the basal forebrain are increasingly active during nonrapid eye movement (NREM) sleep in a mouse model of neuropathic pain. These neurons directly activate vasoactive intestinal polypeptide-expressing interneurons in the primary somatosensory cortex (S1), causing disinhibition of pyramidal neurons and allodynia. The hyperactivity of aNB neurons is caused by the increased inputs from the parabrachial nucleus (PB) driven by the injured peripheral afferents. Inhibition of this pathway during NREM sleep, but not wakefulness, corrects neuronal hyperactivation and alleviates pain. Our results reveal that the PB-aNB-S1 pathway during sleep is critical for the generation and maintenance of chronic pain. Inhibiting this pathway during the sleep phase could be important for treating neuropathic pain.
Cross-species transcriptomic atlas of dorsal root ganglia reveals species-specific programs for sensory function.
Sensory neurons of the dorsal root ganglion (DRG) are critical for maintaining tissue homeostasis by sensing and initiating responses to stimuli. While most preclinical studies of DRGs are conducted in rodents, much less is known about the mechanisms of sensory perception in primates. We generated a transcriptome atlas of mouse, guinea pig, cynomolgus monkey, and human DRGs by implementing a common laboratory workflow and multiple data-integration approaches to generate high-resolution cross-species mappings of sensory neuron subtypes. Using our atlas, we identified conserved core modules highlighting subtype-specific biological processes related to inflammatory response. We also identified divergent expression of key genes involved in DRG function, suggesting species-specific adaptations specifically in nociceptors that likely point to divergent function of nociceptors. Among these, we validated that TAFA4, a member of the druggable genome, was expressed in distinct populations of DRG neurons across species, highlighting species-specific programs that are critical for therapeutic development.
With sweeping advances in precision delivery systems and manipulation of the genomes and transcriptomes of various cell types, medical biotechnology offers unprecedented selectivity for and control of a wide variety of biological processes, forging new opportunities for therapeutic interventions. This perspective summarizes state-of-the-art gene therapies enabled by recent innovations, with an emphasis on the expanding universe of molecular targets that govern the activity and function of primary sensory neurons and which might be exploited to effectively treat chronic pain.
Neuropathic pain is a debilitating condition resulting from damage to the nervous system. Imbalance of spinal excitation and inhibition has been proposed to contribute to neuropathic pain. However, the structural basis of this imbalance remains unknown. Using a preclinical model of neuropathic pain, we show that microglia selectively engulf spinal synapses that are formed by central neurons and spare those of peripheral sensory neurons. Furthermore, we reveal that removal of inhibitory and excitatory synapses exhibits distinct temporal patterns, in which microglia-mediated inhibitory synapse removal precedes excitatory synapse removal. We also find selective and gradual increase in complement depositions on dorsal horn synapses that corresponds to the temporal pattern of microglial synapse pruning activity and type-specific synapse loss. Together, these results define a specific role for microglia in the progression of neuropathic pain pathogenesis and implicate these immune cells in structural remodeling of dorsal horn circuitry.
Endometriosis is a common condition in women that causes chronic pain and infertility and is associated with an elevated risk of ovarian cancer. We profiled transcriptomes of >370,000 individual cells from endometriomas (n = 8), endometriosis (n = 28), eutopic endometrium (n = 10), unaffected ovary (n = 4) and endometriosis-free peritoneum (n = 4), generating a cellular atlas of endometrial-type epithelial cells, stromal cells and microenvironmental cell populations across tissue sites. Cellular and molecular signatures of endometrial-type epithelium and stroma differed across tissue types, suggesting a role for cellular restructuring and transcriptional reprogramming in the disease. Epithelium, stroma and proximal mesothelial cells of endometriomas showed dysregulation of pro-inflammatory pathways and upregulation of complement proteins. Somatic ARID1A mutation in epithelial cells was associated with upregulation of pro-angiogenic and pro-lymphangiogenic factors and remodeling of the endothelial cell compartment, with enrichment of lymphatic endothelial cells. Finally, signatures of ciliated epithelial cells were enriched in ovarian cancers, reinforcing epidemiologic associations between these two diseases.
Catechol-O-Methyltransferase Loss Drives Cell-Specific Nociceptive Signaling via the Enteric COMT/miR-155/TNF-α Axis.
The etiology of abdominal pain in post-infectious, diarrhea-predominant IBS (PI-IBS-D) is unknown and few treatment options exist. Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT), an enzyme that inactivates and degrades biologically active catecholamines, plays an important role in numerous physiologic processes, including modulation of pain perception. Our objective was to determine the mechanism(s) of how decreased colonic COMT in PI-IBS-D patients contributes to the chronic abdominal pain phenotype following enteric infections.
Cortical neural dynamics mediate information processing for the cerebral cortex, implicated in fundamental biological processes, such as vision and olfaction, in addition to neurological and psychiatric diseases. Spontaneous pain is a key feature of human neuropathic pain. Whether spontaneous pain pushes cortical network into an aberrant state, and if so, whether it can be brought back to a 'normal' operating range to ameliorate pain are unknown. Using a clinically relevant mouse model of neuropathic pain with spontaneous pain-like behavior, we report that orofacial spontaneous pain activated a specific area within the primary somatosensory cortex (S1), displaying synchronized neural dynamics revealed by intravital two-photon calcium imaging. This synchronization was underpinned by local GABAergic interneuron hypoactivity. Pain-induced cortical synchronization could be attenuated by manipulating local S1 networks or clinically effective pain therapies. Specifically, both chemogenetic inhibition of pain-related c-Fos-expressing neurons, and selective activation of GABAergic interneurons, significantly attenuated S1 synchronization. Clinically effective pain therapies including carbamazepine and nerve root decompression could also dampen S1 synchronization. More importantly, restoring a 'normal' range of neural dynamics, through attenuating pain-induced S1 synchronization, alleviated pain-like behavior. These results suggest spontaneous pain pushes S1 regional network into a synchronized state, whereas reversal of this synchronization alleviates pain.
Accumulating observations suggest that peripheral somatosensory ganglia may regulate nociceptive transmission, yet direct evidence is sparse. Here, in experiments on rats and mice, we show that the peripheral afferent nociceptive information in mice undergoes dynamic filtering within the dorsal root ganglion (DRG) and suggest that this filtering occurs at the axonal bifurcations (t-junctions). Using synchronous in vivo electrophysiological recordings from the peripheral and central processes of sensory neurons (in the spinal nerve and dorsal root), ganglionic transplantation of GABAergic progenitor cells, and optogenetics, we demonstrate existence of tonic and dynamic filtering of action potentials traveling through the DRG. Filtering induced by focal application of GABA or optogenetic GABA release from the DRG-transplanted GABAergic progenitor cells was specific to nociceptive fibers. Light-sheet imaging and computer modeling demonstrated that, compared to other somatosensory fiber types, nociceptors have shorter stem axons, making somatic control over t-junctional filtering more efficient. Optogenetically induced GABA release within DRG from the transplanted GABAergic cells enhanced filtering and alleviated hypersensitivity to noxious stimulation produced by chronic inflammation and neuropathic injury in vivo. These findings support "gating" of pain information by DRGs and suggest new therapeutic approaches for pain relief.
Structure-guided peptide engineering of a positive allosteric modulator targeting the outer pore of TRPV1 for long-lasting analgesia.
Transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) ion channel is a classic analgesic target, but antagonists of TRPV1 failed in clinical trials due to their side effects like hyperthermia. Here we rationally engineer a peptide s-RhTx as a positive allosteric modulator (PAM) of TRPV1. Patch-clamp recordings demonstrate s-RhTx selectively potentiated TRPV1 activation. s-RhTx also slows down capsaicin-induced desensitization of TRPV1 in the presence of calcium to cause more calcium influx in TRPV1-expressing cells. In addition, our thermodynamic mutant cycle analysis shows that E652 in TRPV1 outer pore specifically interacts with R12 and K22 in s-RhTx. Furthermore, we demonstrate in vivo that s-RhTx exhibits long-lasting analgesic effects in noxious heat hyperalgesia and CFA-induced chronic inflammatory pain by promoting the reversible degeneration of intra-epidermal nerve fiber (IENF) expressing TRPV1 channels in mice, while their body temperature remains unaffected. Our results suggest s-RhTx is an analgesic agent as a PAM of TRPV1.
Expectations for improvement: a neglected but potentially important covariate or moderator for chronic pain clinical trials.
Variability in pain-related outcomes can hamper assay sensitivity of chronic pain clinical trials. Expectations of outcome in such trials may account for some of this variability, and thereby impede development of novel pain treatments. Measurement of participants' expectations prior to initiating study treatment (active or placebo) is infrequent, variable, and often unvalidated. Efforts to optimize and standardize measurement, analysis, and management of expectations are needed. In this Focus Article, we provide an overview of research findings on the relationship between baseline expectations and pain-related outcomes in clinical trials of pharmacological and non-pharmacological pain treatments. We highlight the potential benefit of adjusting for participants' expectations in clinical trial analyses and draw on findings from patient interviews to discuss critical issues related to measurement of expectations. We conclude with suggestions regarding future studies focused on better understanding the utility of incorporating these measures into clinical trial analyses. PERSPECTIVE: : This focus article provides an overview of the relationship between participants' baseline expectations and pain-related outcomes in the setting of clinical trials of chronic pain treatments. Systematic research focused on the measurement of expectations and the impact of adjusting for expectations in clinical trial analyses may improve assay sensitivity.
The primary motor cortex (M1) is involved in the control of voluntary movements and is extensively mapped in this capacity. Although the M1 is implicated in modulation of pain, the underlying circuitry and causal underpinnings remain elusive. We unexpectedly unraveled a connection from the M1 to the nucleus accumbens reward circuitry through a M1 layer 6-mediodorsal thalamus pathway, which specifically suppresses negative emotional valence and associated coping behaviors in neuropathic pain. By contrast, layer 5 M1 neurons connect with specific cell populations in zona incerta and periaqueductal gray to suppress sensory hypersensitivity without altering pain affect. Thus, the M1 employs distinct, layer-specific pathways to attune sensory and aversive-emotional components of neuropathic pain, which can be exploited for purposes of pain relief.
Visceral pain (VP) is a global problem with complex etiologies and limited therapeutic options. Guanylyl cyclase C (GUCY2C), an intestinal receptor producing cyclic GMP which regulates luminal fluid secretion, has emerged as a therapeutic target for VP. Indeed, FDA-approved GUCY2C agonists ameliorate VP in patients with chronic constipation syndromes, although analgesic mechanisms remain obscure. Here, we reveal that intestinal GUCY2C is selectively enriched in neuropod cells, a type of enteroendocrine cell that synapses with submucosal neurons in mice and humans. GUCY2CHigh neuropod cells associate with co-cultured dorsal root ganglia neurons and induce hyperexcitability, reducing the rheobase and increasing the resulting number of evoked action potentials. Conversely, the GUCY2C agonist linaclotide eliminated neuronal hyperexcitability produced by GUCY2C-sufficient, but not GUCY2C-deficient, neuropod cells, an effect independent of bulk epithelial cells or extracellular cGMP. Genetic elimination of intestinal GUCY2C amplified nociceptive signaling and VP that was comparable to chemically-induced VP but refractory to linaclotide. Importantly, eliminating GUCY2C selectively in neuropod cells also increased nociceptive signaling and VP that was refractory to linaclotide. In the context of loss of GUCY2C hormones in patients with VP, these observations suggest a specific role for neuropod GUCY2C signaling in the pathophysiology and treatment of these pain syndromes.
Spinal VGLUT3 lineage neurons drive visceral mechanical allodynia but not sensitized visceromotor reflexes.
Visceral pain is among the most prevalent and bothersome forms of chronic pain, but their transmission in the spinal cord is still poorly understood. Here, we conducted focal colorectal distention (fCRD) to drive both visceromotor responses (VMRs) and aversion. We first found that spinal CCK neurons were necessary for noxious fCRD to drive both VMRs and aversion under naive conditions. We next showed that spinal VGLUT3 neurons mediate visceral allodynia, whose ablation caused loss of aversion evoked by low-intensity fCRD in mice with gastrointestinal (GI) inflammation or spinal circuit disinhibition. Importantly, these neurons were dispensable for driving sensitized VMRs under both inflammatory and central disinhibition conditions. Anatomically, a subset of VGLUT3 neurons projected to parabrachial nuclei, whose photoactivation sufficiently generated aversion in mice with GI inflammation, without influencing VMRs. Our studies suggest the presence of different spinal substrates that transmit nociceptive versus affective dimensions of visceral sensory information.
Piezo2 channels expressed by colon-innervating TRPV1-lineage neurons mediate visceral mechanical hypersensitivity.
Inflammatory and functional gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and obstructive bowel disorder (OBD) underlie the most prevalent forms of visceral pain. Although visceral pain can be generally provoked by mechanical distension/stretch, the mechanisms that underlie visceral mechanosensitivity in colon-innervating visceral afferents remain elusive. Here, we show that virally mediated ablation of colon-innervating TRPV1-expressing nociceptors markedly reduces colorectal distention (CRD)-evoked visceromotor response (VMR) in mice. Selective ablation of the stretch-activated Piezo2 channels from TRPV1 lineage neurons substantially reduces mechanically evoked visceral afferent action potential firing and CRD-induced VMR under physiological conditions, as well as in mouse models of zymosan-induced IBS and partial colon obstruction (PCO). Collectively, our results demonstrate that mechanosensitive Piezo2 channels expressed by TRPV1-lineage nociceptors powerfully contribute to visceral mechanosensitivity and nociception under physiological conditions and visceral hypersensitivity under pathological conditions in mice, uncovering potential therapeutic targets for the treatment of visceral pain.
The basal ganglia including the subthalamic nucleus (STN) and substantia nigra pars reticulata (SNr) are involved in pain-related responses, but how they regulate pain processing remains unknown. Here, we identify a pathway, consisting of GABAergic neurons in the SNr (SNr) and glutamatergic neurons in the STN (STN) and the lateral parabrachial nucleus (LPB), that modulates acute and persistent pain states in both male and female mice. The activity of STN neurons was enhanced in acute and persistent pain states. This enhancement was accompanied by hypoactivity in SNr neurons and strengthening of the STN-LPB glutamatergic projection. Reversing the dysfunction in the SNr-STN-LPB pathway attenuated activity of LPB neurons and mitigated pain-like behaviors. Therefore, the SNr-STN-LPB pathway regulates pathological pain and is a potential target for pain management.
Pain chronicity involves unpleasant experience in both somatosensory and affective aspects, accompanied with the prefrontal cortex (PFC) neuroplastic alterations. However, whether specific PFC neuronal ensembles underlie pain chronicity remains elusive. Here we identify a nociceptive neuronal ensemble in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC), which shows prominent reactivity to nociceptive stimuli. We observed that this ensemble shows distinct molecular characteristics and is densely connected to pain-related regions including basolateral amygdala (BLA) and lateral parabrachial nuclei (LPB). Prolonged chemogenetic activation of this nociceptive neuronal ensemble, but not a randomly transfected subset of dmPFC neurons, induces chronic pain-like behaviors in normal mice. By contrast, silencing the nociceptive dmPFC neurons relieves both pain hypersensitivity and anxiety in mice with chronic inflammatory pain. These results suggest the presence of specific dmPFC neuronal ensembles in processing nociceptive information and regulating pain chronicity.