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Papers: 20 Jan 2024 - 26 Jan 2024

2024 Jan 20

Nat Commun




A mesocortical glutamatergic pathway modulates neuropathic pain independent of dopamine co-release.


Li M, Yang G


Dysfunction in the mesocortical pathway, connecting the ventral tegmental area (VTA) to the prefrontal cortex, has been implicated in chronic pain. While extensive research has focused on the role of dopamine, the contribution of glutamatergic signaling in pain modulation remains unknown. Using in vivo calcium imaging, we observe diminished VTA glutamatergic activity targeting the prelimbic cortex (PL) in a mouse model of neuropathic pain. Optogenetic activation of VTA glutamatergic terminals in the PL alleviates neuropathic pain, whereas inhibiting these terminals in naïve mice induces pain-like responses. Importantly, this pain-modulating effect is independent of dopamine co-release, as demonstrated by CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene deletion. Furthermore, we show that VTA neurons primarily project to excitatory neurons in the PL, and their activation restores PL outputs to the anterior cingulate cortex, a key region involved in pain processing. These findings reveal a distinct mesocortical glutamatergic pathway that critically modulates neuropathic pain independent of dopamine signaling.