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J Neurosci. 2004 Sep 22;24(38):8310-21.

Ionotropic and metabotropic receptors, protein kinase A, protein kinase C, and Src contribute to C-fiber-induced ERK activation and cAMP response element-binding protein phosphorylation in dorsal horn neurons, leading to central sensitization.

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  • 1Pain Research Center, Department of Anesthesiology, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


Molecular mechanisms underlying C-fiber stimulation-induced ERK (extracellular signal-regulated kinase) activation in dorsal horn neurons and its contribution to central sensitization have been investigated. In adult rat spinal slice preparations, activation of C-fiber primary afferents by a brief exposure of capsaicin produces an eightfold to 10-fold increase in ERK phosphorylation (pERK) in superficial dorsal horn neurons. The pERK induction is reduced by blockade of NMDA, AMPA/kainate, group I metabotropic glutamate receptor, neurokinin-1, and tyrosine receptor kinase receptors. The ERK activation produced by capsaicin is totally suppressed by inhibition of either protein kinase A (PKA) or PKC. PKA or PKC activators either alone or more effectively together induce pERK in superficial dorsal horn neurons. Inhibition of calcium calmodulin-dependent kinase (CaMK) has no effect, but pERK is reduced by inhibition of the tyrosine kinase Src. The induction of cAMP response element binding protein phosphorylation (pCREB) in spinal cord slices in response to C-fiber stimulation is suppressed by preventing ERK activation with the MAP kinase kinase inhibitor 2-(2-diamino-3-methoxyphenyl-4H-1-benzopyran-4-one (PD98059) and by PKA, PKC, and CaMK inhibitors. Similar signaling contributes to pERK induction after electrical stimulation of dorsal root C-fibers. Intraplantar injection of capsaicin in an intact animal increases expression of pCREB, c-Fos, and prodynorphin in the superficial dorsal horn, changes that are prevented by intrathecal injection of PD98059. Intrathecal PD98059 also attenuates capsaicin-induced secondary mechanical allodynia, a pain behavior reflecting hypersensitivity of dorsal horn neurons (central sensitization). We postulate that activation of ionotropic and metabotropic receptors by C-fiber nociceptor afferents activates ERK via both PKA and PKC, and that this contributes to central sensitization through post-translational and CREB-mediated transcriptional regulation in dorsal horn neurons.

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