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Neuropharmacology. 2010 Nov;59(6):460-7. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2010.06.007. Epub 2010 Jun 22.

An increase in spinal dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) enhances NMDA-induced pain via phosphorylation of the NR1 subunit in mice: involvement of the sigma-1 receptor.

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Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX, USA.


Our laboratory has recently demonstrated that an increase in the spinal neurosteroid, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) facilitates nociception via the activation of sigma-1 receptors and/or the allosteric inhibition GABA(A) receptors. Several lines of evidence have suggested that DHEAS positively modulates N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor activity within the central nervous system. Moreover, we have demonstrated that the activation of sigma-1 receptors increases NMDA receptor activity. Since NMDA receptors play a key role in the enhancement of pain perception, the present study was designed to determine whether spinally administered DHEAS modulates NMDA receptor-mediated nociceptive activity and whether this effect is mediated by sigma-1 or GABA(A) receptors. Intrathecal (i.t.) DHEAS was found to significantly potentiate i.t. NMDA-induced spontaneous pain behaviors. Subsequent immunohistochemical analysis demonstrated that i.t. DHEAS also increased protein kinase C (PKC)- and protein kinase A (PKA)-dependent phosphorylation of the NMDA receptor subunit NR1 (pNR1), which was used as a marker of NMDA receptor sensitization. The sigma-1 receptor antagonist, BD-1047, but not the GABA(A) receptor agonist, muscimol, dose-dependently suppressed DHEAS's facilitatory effect on NMDA-induced nociception and pNR1 expression. In addition, pretreatment with either a PKC or PKA blocker significantly reduced the facilitatory effect of DHEAS on NMDA-induced nociception. Conversely the GABA(A) receptor antagonist, bicuculline did not affect NMDA-induced pain behavior or pNR1 expression. The results of this study suggest that the DHEAS-induced enhancement of NMDA-mediated nociception is dependent on an increase in PKC- and PKA-dependent pNR1. Moreover, this effect of DHEAS on NMDA receptor activity is mediated by the activation of spinal sigma-1 receptors and not through the inhibition of GABA(A) receptors.

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