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Papers of the Week

Papers: 13 Aug 2022 - 19 Aug 2022

Animal Studies

2022 Aug 18

J Physiol

Kappa opioids inhibit the GABA/glycine terminals of rostral ventromedial medulla projections in the superficial dorsal horn of the spinal cord.


Descending projections from neurons in the rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM) make synapses within the superficial dorsal horn (SDH) of the spinal cord that are involved in the modulation of nociception, the development of chronic pain and itch, and an important analgesic target for opioids. This projection is primarily inhibitory, but the relative contribution of GABAergic and glycinergic transmission is unknown and there is limited knowledge about the SDH neurons targeted. Additionally, the details of how spinal opioids mediate analgesia remain unclear, and no study has investigated the opioid modulation of this synapse. We address this using ex vivo optogenetic stimulation of RVM fibres in conjunction with whole-cell patch-clamp recordings from the SDH in spinal cord slices. We demonstrate that both GABAergic and glycinergic neurotransmission is employed and show that SDH target neurons have diverse morphological and electrical properties, consistent with both inhibitory and excitatory interneurons. Then, we describe a subtype of SDH neurons that have a glycine-dominant input, indicating that the quality of descending inhibition across cells is not uniform. Finally, we discovered that the kappa-opioid receptor agonist U69593 presynaptically suppressed most RVM-SDH synapses. By contrast, the mu-opioid receptor agonist DAMGO acted both pre- and post-synaptically at a subset of synapses, and the delta-opioid receptor agonist deltorphin II had little effect. These data provide important mechanistic information about a descending control pathway that regulates spinal circuits. This information is necessary to understand how sensory inputs are shaped and develop more reliable and effective alternatives to current opioid analgesics. Abstract figure legend We combined ex vivo optogenetic stimulation of RVM fibres with whole cell electrophysiology of SDH neurons to investigate the final synapse in a key descending pain modulatory pathway. We demonstrate that both glycine and GABA mediate signalling at the RVM-SDH synapse, that the SDH targets of RVM projections have diverse electrical and morphological characteristics, and that presynaptic inhibition is directly and consistently achieved by kappa opioid agonists. Opioid receptors shown are sized relative to the proportion of neurons that responded to its specific agonists (81 and 84percent of DF and non-DF neurons responded to kappa opioid receptor agonists, respectively. Responses that occurred in <255 percentage of neurons are not indicated here). This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.