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Papers: 12 Feb 2022 - 18 Feb 2022

2021 Dec 16

Biol Psychiatry

The Role of the Locus Coeruleus in Pain and Associated Stress-Related Disorders.


Suárez-Pereira I, Llorca-Torralba M, Bravo L, Camarena-Delgado C, Soriano-Mas C, Berrocoso E
Biol Psychiatry. 2021 Dec 16.
PMID: 35164940.


The locus coeruleus (LC)-noradrenergic system is the main source of noradrenaline in the central nervous system and is involved intensively in modulating pain and stress-related disorders (e.g., major depressive disorder and anxiety) and in their comorbidity. However, the mechanisms involving the LC that underlie these effects have not been fully elucidated, in part owing to the technical difficulties inherent in exploring such a tiny nucleus. However, novel research tools are now available that have helped redefine the LC system, moving away from the traditional view of LC as a homogeneous structure that exerts a uniform influence on neural activity. Indeed, innovative techniques such as DREADDs (designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs) and optogenetics have demonstrated the functional heterogeneity of LC, and novel magnetic resonance imaging applications combined with pupillometry have opened the way to evaluate LC activity in vivo. This review aims to bring together the data available on the efferent activity of the LC-noradrenergic system in relation to pain and its comorbidity with anxiodepressive disorders. Acute pain triggers a robust LC stress response, producing spinal cord-mediated endogenous analgesia while promoting aversion, vigilance, and threat detection through its ascending efferents. However, this protective biological system fails in chronic pain, and LC activity produces pain facilitation, anxiety, increased aversive memory, and behavioral despair, acting at the medulla, prefrontal cortex, and amygdala levels. Thus, the activation/deactivation of specific LC projections contributes to different behavioral outcomes in the shift from acute to chronic pain.