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Neural Plast. 2009;2009:462879. doi: 10.1155/2009/462879. Epub 2009 Jan 28.

The role of the periaqueductal gray in the modulation of pain in males and females: are the anatomy and physiology really that different?

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  • 1Neuroscience Institute, Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, Georgia State University, P.O. Box 4010, Atlanta, GA 30302, USA.


Anatomical and physiological studies conducted in the 1960s identified the periaqueductal gray (PAG) and its descending projections to the rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM) and spinal cord dorsal horn, as a primary anatomical pathway mediating opioid-based analgesia. Since these initial studies, the PAG-RVM-spinal cord pathway has been characterized anatomically and physiologically in a wide range of vertebrate species. Remarkably, the majority of these studies were conducted exclusively in males with the implicit assumption that the anatomy and physiology of this circuit were the same in females; however, this is not the case. It is well established that morphine administration produces greater antinociception in males compared to females. Recent studies indicate that the PAG-RVM pathway contributes to the sexually dimorphic actions of morphine. This manuscript will review our anatomical, physiological, and behavioral data identifying sex differences in the PAG-RVM pathway, focusing on its role in pain modulation and morphine analgesia.

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