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J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2005 Apr;313(1):389-94. Epub 2004 Dec 17.

The dorsal raphe nucleus as a site of action of the antinociceptive and behavioral effects of the alpha4 nicotinic receptor agonist epibatidine.

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Department of Anesthesia and Critical Care Medicine, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, 34th Street and Civic Center Blvd., Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


The mechanisms and sites of action of epibatidine-induced antinociception and side effects are poorly understood. The present study tested the hypothesis that the serotonergic dorsal raphe nucleus is a site of action of epibatidine. Behavioral responses of rats to hindpaw formalin injection were compared after direct administration of epibatidine into the dorsal raphe and after subcutaneous administration. Different groups of rats were injected with formalin into the rear paw after administration of either epibatidine (0.01, 0.015, 0.03, and 0.06 microg) in the dorsal raphe or epibatidine (2.5-5 microg/kg) subcutaneously. Assessment of pain related behavior was done evaluating the incidence of favoring, lifting, and licking of the injected paw in the different groups. Abnormal behavior (freezing) was also recorded. Epibatidine was at least 100 times more potent when administered into the dorsal raphe nucleus versus systemically, implicating this nucleus as a site of action of the analgesic effects of epibatidine. Thus, epibatidine (0.015, 0.03, and 0.06 microg) in the dorsal raphe resulted in a significant lower pain score in the second phase of the formalin test compared with control rats and was as effective as subcutaneous epibatidine. The analgesic effects of epibatidine were regionally selective in that administration of epibatidine within the periaqueductal gray area but outside the dorsal raphe area was not analgesic. The highest doses of intraraphe epibatidine (i.e., 0.03-0.06 microg) also produced "freezing" behavior immediately after injection, which was relatively short-lived compared with the analgesic effect. Together, the results implicate the dorsal raphe nucleus as a target for the analgesic and perhaps anxiogenic effects of epibatidine.

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