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Papers of the Week

Papers: 7 May 2022 - 13 May 2022

2022 May 11


Grpr expression defines a population of superficial dorsal horn vertical cells that have a role in both itch and pain.


Polgár E, Dickie AC, Gutierrez-Mecinas M, Bell AM, Boyle KA, Quillet R, Rashid E A, Clark RA, German MT, Watanabe M, Riddell JS, Todd AJ
Pain. 2022 May 11.
PMID: 35543635.


Neurons in the superficial dorsal horn that express the gastrin-releasing peptide receptor (GRPR) are strongly implicated in spinal itch pathways. However, a recent study reported that many of these correspond to vertical cells, a population of interneurons that are thought to transmit nociceptive information. In this study, we have used a GRPRCreERT2 mouse line to identify and target cells that possess Grpr mRNA. We find that the GRPR cells are highly concentrated in lamina I and the outer part of lamina II, that they are all glutamatergic, and that they account for ∼15% of the excitatory neurons in the superficial dorsal horn. We had previously identified 6 neurochemically distinct excitatory interneuron populations in this region based on neuropeptide expression and the GRPR cells are largely separate from these, although they show some overlap with cells that express substance P. Anatomical analysis revealed that the GRPR neurons are indeed vertical cells, and that their axons target each other, as well as arborising in regions that contain projection neurons: lamina I, the lateral spinal nucleus and the lateral part of lamina V. Surprisingly, given the proposed role of GRPR cells in itch, we found that most of the cells received monosynaptic input from Trpv1-expressing (nociceptive) afferents, that the great majority responded to noxious and pruritic stimuli, and that chemogenetically activating them resulted in pain- and itch-related behaviours. Together, these findings suggest that the GRPR cells are involved in spinal cord circuits that underlie both pain and itch.