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Pain. 2006 Nov;125(1-2):125-35. Epub 2006 Jun 15.

Tonic inhibitory role of alpha4beta2 subtype of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors on nociceptive transmission in the spinal cord in mice.

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Department of Integrative Physiology, Kyushu University Graduate School of Medical Sciences, Fukuoka 812-8582, Japan.


In the spinal dorsal horn, activation of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR) by exogenously applied agonists is known to enhance inhibitory synaptic transmission, and to produce analgesia. However, it is still unknown whether endogenously released acetylcholine exerts a tonic inhibition on nociceptive transmission through the nAChRs in the spinal dorsal horn. Here, we report the presence of such a tonic inhibitory mechanism in the spinal dorsal horn in mice. In behavioral experiments, intrathecal (i.t.) injection of non-selective nAChR antagonist mecamylamine and alpha4beta2 subtype-selective antagonist dihydro-beta-erythroidine (DHbetaE) dose-dependently induced thermal and mechanical hyperalgesia in mice while the alpha7-selective antagonist methyllycaconitine (MLA) had no effect. Similarly, antisense knock-down of alpha4 subunit of nAChR, but not alpha7 subunit, in spinal cord induced thermal and mechanical hyperalgesia. In whole-cell patch-clamp experiments in spinal cord slice preparation from adult mice, the frequency of miniature inhibitory postsynaptic currents (mIPSCs) observed in substantia gelatinosa (SG) neurons was decreased by mecamylamine and DHbetaE, but not by MLA. The amplitudes of the mIPSCs were not affected. The nicotinic antagonists decreased the frequency of both GABAergic and glycinergic IPSCs. On the other hand, the nicotinic antagonists had no effect on the excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs). Finally, acetylcholine-esterase inhibitor neostigmine-induced facilitation of IPSC frequencies in SG neurons was inhibited by mecamylamine and DHbetaE. Altogether these findings suggest that nicotinic cholinergic system in the spinal dorsal horn can tonically inhibit nociceptive transmission through presynaptic facilitation of inhibitory neurotransmission in SG via the alpha4beta2 subtype of nAChR.

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