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Brain Res. 2003 Mar 21;966(2):253-64.

Differential induction of c-fos expression in brain nuclei by noxious and non-noxious colonic distension: role of afferent C-fibers and 5-HT3 receptors.

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Department of Internal Medicine, Charité, Humboldt-Universität, Berlin, Germany.


Experimental animal models have been established to gain insight into the pathogenesis and the mechanisms of visceral hyperalgesia in the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However, data about the mechanisms and pathways involved in the induction of neuronal activity in forebrain and midbrain structures by a physiological GI stimulus, like colonic distension (CD), in the range from non-noxious to noxious intensities are scarce. Thus, the effect of proximal CD with non-noxious (10 mmHg) and noxious (40 and 70 mmHg) stimulus intensities on neuronal activity in brain nuclei, as assessed by c-fos expression, was established. In additional studies, the role of vagal and non-vagal afferent sensory C-fibers and 5-HT(3) receptors in the mediation of visceral nociception was investigated in this experimental model at noxious colonic distension (70 mmHg). At CD, the number of c-Fos like immunoreactivity (c-FLI)-positive neurons increased pressure-dependently in the nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS), rostral ventrolateral medulla (RVLM), nucleus cuneiformis (NC), periaqueductal gray (PAG), and the amygdala (AM). In the dorsomedial (DMH) and ventromedial nucleus (VMH) of the hypothalamus, as well as in the thalamus (TH), neuronal activity was also increased after CD, but independently of stimulus intensities. A decrease of the CD-induced c-fos expression after sensory vagal denervation by perivagal capsaicin treatment was only observed in brainstem nuclei (NTS and RVLM). In all other activated brain nuclei examined, the CD-related induction of c-fos expression was diminished only after systemic neonatal capsaicin treatment. In the NTS and RVLM, a trend of decrease of c-fos expression was also observed after systemic neonatal capsaicin treatment. In order to assess the role of the 5-HT(3) receptor in CD-induced neuronal activation of brain nuclei, animals were pretreated with the 5-HT(3) receptor antagonist granisetron (1250 microg/kg, i.p. within 18 h before CD). Pretreatment with granisetron significantly reduced the number of c-FLI-positive cells/section in the NTS by 40%, but had no significant effect on the CD-induced c-fos expression in other brain areas. The data suggest that distinct afferent pathways and transmitters are involved in the transmission of nociceptive information from the colon to the brain nuclei activated by proximal colonic distension. Activation of NTS neurons at such a condition seems to be partially mediated via capsaicin-sensitive vagal afferents and 5-HT(3) receptors. In contrast, activation of brain nuclei in the di- and telencephalon by nociceptive mechanical stimulation of the proximal colon, as assessed by c-fos expression, is partially mediated by capsaicin-sensitive, non-vagal afferents, and independent of neurotransmission via 5-HT(3) receptors. The modulation of CD-induced c-fos expression exclusively in the NTS by granisetron points to a role of 5-HT(3) receptor antagonists in the modulation of vago-vagal sensomotoric reflexes rather than an influence on forebrain nuclei involved in nociception.

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