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J Neurosci. 2004 Mar 17;24(11):2806-12.

Spinal G-protein-gated K+ channels formed by GIRK1 and GIRK2 subunits modulate thermal nociception and contribute to morphine analgesia.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455, USA.


G-protein-gated potassium (K+) channels are found throughout the CNS in which they contribute to the inhibitory effects of neurotransmitters and drugs of abuse. Recent studies have implicated G-protein-gated K+ channels in thermal nociception and the analgesic action of morphine and other agents. Because nociception is subject to complex spinal and supraspinal modulation, however, the relevant locations of G-protein-gated K+ channels are unknown. In this study, we sought to clarify the expression pattern and subunit composition of G-protein-gated K+ channels in the spinal cord and to assess directly their contribution to thermal nociception and morphine analgesia. We detected GIRK1 (G-protein-gated inwardly rectifying K+ channel subunit 1) and GIRK2 subunits, but not GIRK3, in the superficial layers of the dorsal horn. Lack of either GIRK1 or GIRK2 was correlated with significantly lower expression of the other, suggesting that a functional and physical interaction occurs between these two subunits. Consistent with these findings, GIRK1 knock-out and GIRK2 knock-out mice exhibited hyperalgesia in the tail-flick test of thermal nociception. Furthermore, GIRK1 knock-out and GIRK2 knock-out mice displayed decreased analgesic responses after the spinal administration of higher morphine doses, whereas responses to lower morphine doses were preserved. Qualitatively similar data were obtained with wild-type mice after administration of the G-protein-gated K+ channel blocker tertiapin. We conclude that spinal G-protein-gated K+ channels consisting primarily of GIRK1/GIRK2 complexes modulate thermal nociception and mediate a significant component of the analgesia evoked by intrathecal administration of high morphine doses

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