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J Neurosci. 2011 Sep 7;31(36):12982-91. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3093-11.2011.

Mitochondrial Ca(2+) uptake is essential for synaptic plasticity in pain.

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  • 1Department of Neuroscience and Cell Biology, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas 77555-1069, USA.


The increase of cytosolic free Ca(2+) ([Ca(2+)](c)) due to NMDA receptor activation is a key step for spinal cord synaptic plasticity by altering cellular signal transduction pathways. We focus on this plasticity as a cause of persistent pain. To provide a mechanism for these classic findings, we report that [Ca(2+)](c) does not trigger synaptic plasticity directly but must first enter into mitochondria. Interfering with mitochondrial Ca(2+) uptake during a [Ca(2+)](c) increase blocks induction of behavioral hyperalgesia and accompanying downstream cell signaling, with reduction of spinal long-term potentiation (LTP). Furthermore, reducing the accompanying mitochondrial superoxide levels lessens hyperalgesia and LTP induction. These results indicate that [Ca(2+)](c) requires downstream mitochondrial Ca(2+) uptake with consequent production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) for synaptic plasticity underlying chronic pain. These results suggest modifying mitochondrial Ca(2+) uptake and thus ROS as a type of chronic pain therapy that should also have broader biologic significance.

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