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Front Syst Neurosci. 2015 Feb 19;9:15. doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2015.00015. eCollection 2015.

Identifying the integrated neural networks involved in capsaicin-induced pain using fMRI in awake TRPV1 knockout and wild-type rats.

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Center for Translational NeuroImaging, Department of Psychology, Northeastern University Boston, MA, USA.
SAGE Labs St Louis, MO, USA.
Ekam Imaging Boston, MA, USA.


In the present study, we used functional MRI in awake rats to investigate the pain response that accompanies intradermal injection of capsaicin into the hindpaw. To this end, we used BOLD imaging together with a 3D segmented, annotated rat atlas and computational analysis to identify the integrated neural circuits involved in capsaicin-induced pain. The specificity of the pain response to capsaicin was tested in a transgenic model that contains a biallelic deletion of the gene encoding for the transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily V member 1 (TRPV1). Capsaicin is an exogenous ligand for the TRPV1 receptor, and in wild-type rats, activated the putative pain neural circuit. In addition, capsaicin-treated wild-type rats exhibited activation in brain regions comprising the Papez circuit and habenular system, systems that play important roles in the integration of emotional information, and learning and memory of aversive information, respectively. As expected, capsaicin administration to TRPV1-KO rats failed to elicit the robust BOLD activation pattern observed in wild-type controls. However, the intradermal injection of formalin elicited a significant activation of the putative pain pathway as represented by such areas as the anterior cingulate, somatosensory cortex, parabrachial nucleus, and periaqueductal gray. Notably, comparison of neural responses to capsaicin in wild-type vs. knock-out rats uncovered evidence that capsaicin may function in an antinociceptive capacity independent of TRPV1 signaling. Our data suggest that neuroimaging of pain in awake, conscious animals has the potential to inform the neurobiological basis of full and integrated perceptions of pain.


Papez circuit; TRPV1; capsaicin; fMRI BOLD; fMRI methods; habenula; pain networks

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