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Neuroscience. 2009 Nov 10;163(4):1233-41. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2009.06.056. Epub 2009 Jul 2.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation at both high and low frequencies activates ventrolateral periaqueductal grey to decrease mechanical hyperalgesia in arthritic rats.

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Department of Physical Therapy, Federal University of Sergipe, Cidade Universitária Professor José Aloísio de Campos. Av. Marechal Rondon s/n, Jardim Rosa Else, São Cristóvão/Sergipe, Brazil.


Transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS) is widely used for the treatment of pain. TENS produces an opioid-mediated antinociception that utilizes the rostroventromedial medulla (RVM). Similarly, antinociception evoked from the periaqueductal grey (PAG) is opioid-mediated and includes a relay in the RVM. Therefore, we investigated whether the ventrolateral or dorsolateral PAG mediates antinociception produced by TENS in rats. Paw and knee joint mechanical withdrawal thresholds were assessed before and after knee joint inflammation (3% kaolin/carrageenan), and after TENS stimulation (active or sham). Cobalt chloride (CoCl(2); 5 mM) or vehicle was microinjected into the ventrolateral periaqueductal grey (vlPAG) or dorsolateral periaqueductal grey (dlPAG) prior to treatment with TENS. Either high (100 Hz) or low (4 Hz) frequency TENS was then applied to the inflamed knee for 20 min. Active TENS significantly increased withdrawal thresholds of the paw and knee joint in the group microinjected with vehicle when compared to thresholds prior to TENS (P<0.001) or to sham TENS (P<0.001). The increases in withdrawal thresholds normally observed after TENS were prevented by microinjection of CoCl(2) into the vlPAG, but not the dlPAG prior to TENS and were significantly lower than controls treated with TENS (P<0.001). In a separate group of animals, microinjection of CoCl(2) into the vlPAG temporarily reversed the decreased mechanical withdrawal threshold suggesting a role for the vlPAG in the facilitation of joint pain. No significant difference was observed for dlPAG. We hypothesize that the effects of TENS are mediated through the vlPAG that sends projections through the RVM to the spinal cord to produce an opioid-mediated analgesia.

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