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Neuroscience. 2008 Jul 17;154(4):1562-7. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2008.04.070. Epub 2008 May 7.

The visceromotor response to colorectal distention fluctuates with the estrous cycle in rats.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Maryland Dental School, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA.


The existence of a sex difference in several chronic pain syndromes and the fluctuation of symptoms during the menstrual cycle strongly suggest sex hormones are involved in pain processing. The mechanisms underlying these changes are not well understood. Using the colorectal distention model in the rat, we previously reported a sex difference in the response to distention [Ji Y, Murphy AZ, Traub RJ (2006) Sex differences in morphine induced analgesia of visceral pain are supraspinally and peripherally mediated. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 291:R307-R314] and that ovariectomy decreased the responses to distention while estrogen replacement reversed the decrease [Ji Y, Murphy AZ, Traub RJ (2003) Estrogen modulates the visceromotor reflex and responses of spinal dorsal horn neurons to colorectal stimulation in the rat. J Neurosci 23:3908-3915], suggesting estrogen increases visceral nociception. In the present study we tested the hypothesis that the visceromotor response to colorectal distention fluctuates with the estrous cycle. Three measurements (vaginal smears, uterine tube weight and plasma estrogen concentration) were used to determine the estrous phase. Comparison of the visceromotor response threshold and magnitude was made between proestrus and metestrus/diestrus. Our experiment demonstrated that the distention threshold was significantly lower in proestrus (median: 15 mm Hg) as compared with metestrus/diestrus (median: 25 mm Hg); and the magnitude of the visceromotor response to graded intensities of colorectal distentions (20, 40, 60, 80 mm Hg) was significantly higher in proestrus. The results indicate that the visceromotor response fluctuates with estrous phase, providing evidence for endogenous estrogen modulation of visceral nociceptive processing that could contribute to sex differences.

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