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Papers of the Week

Papers: 22 Jun 2019 - 28 Jun 2019

Animal Studies

2019 Nov




The rostromedial tegmental nucleus: a key modulator of pain and opioid analgesia.


Taylor NE, Long H, Pei JZ, Kukutla P, Phero A, Hadaegh F, Abdelnabi A, Solt K, Brenner G
Pain. 2019 Nov; 160(11):2524-2534.
PMID: 31246732.


A recently defined structure, the rostromedial tegmental nucleus (RMTg; aka tail of the ventral tegmental area), has been proposed as an inhibitory control center for dopaminergic activity of the ventral tegmental area (VTA). This region is composed of GABAergic cells which send afferent projections to the ventral midbrain and synapse onto dopaminergic cells in the VTA and substantia nigra. These cells exhibit µ-opioid receptor immunoreactivity, and in-vivo, ex-vivo, and optogenetic/electrophysiological approaches demonstrate that morphine excites dopamine neurons by targeting receptors on GABAergic neurons localized in the RMTg. This suggests that the RMTg may be a key modulator of opioid effects, and a major brake regulating VTA dopamine systems. However, no study has directly manipulated RMTg GABAergic neurons in-vivo and assessed the effect on nociception or opioid analgesia. In this study, multiplexing of GABAergic neurons in the RMTg was achieved using stimulatory Designer Receptors Exclusively Activated by Designer Drugs (DREADDs) and inhibitory kappa-opioid receptor DREADDs (KORD). Our data show that locally-infused RMTg morphine or selective RMTg GABAergic neuron inhibition produces 87% of the maximal antinociceptive effect of systemic morphine, and RMTg GABAergic neurons modulate dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens. Additionally, chemo-activation of VTA dopamine neurons significantly reduced pain behaviors both in resting and facilitated-pain states and reduced by 75% the dose of systemic morphine required to produce maximal antinociception. These results provide compelling evidence that RMTg GABAergic neurons are involved in processing of nociceptive information and are important mediators of opioid analgesia.