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J Neurosci Res. 2017 Jun;95(6):1307-1318. doi: 10.1002/jnr.23981. Epub 2016 Oct 28.

α5GABAA Receptors Mediate Tonic Inhibition in the Spinal Cord Dorsal Horn and Contribute to the Resolution Of Hyperalgesia.

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Institut Universitaire en Santé Mentale de Québec, Québec, Canada.
Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
University of Toronto, Department of Physiology, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Department of Biological Applications and Technology, University of Ioannina, Ioannina, Greece.
University of Toronto, Department of Anesthesia, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Department of Anesthesia, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Department of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, Université Laval, Québec, Canada.


Neuronal inhibition mediated by GABAA receptors constrains nociceptive processing in the spinal cord, and loss of GABAergic inhibition can produce allodynia and hyperalgesia. Extrasynaptic α5 subunit-containing GABAA receptors (α5GABAA Rs) generate a tonic conductance that inhibits neuronal activity and constrains learning and memory; however, it is unclear whether α5GABAA Rs similarly generate a tonic conductance in the spinal cord dorsal horn to constrain nociception. We assessed the distribution of α5GABAA Rs in the spinal cord dorsal horn by immunohistochemical analysis, and the activity and function of α5GABAA Rs in neurons of the superficial dorsal horn using electrophysiological and behavioral approaches in male, null-mutant mice lacking the GABAA R α5 subunit (Gabra5-/-) and wild-type mice (WT). The expression of α5GABAA Rs in the superficial dorsal horn followed a laminar pattern of distribution, with a higher expression in lamina II than lamina I. Similarly, the tonic GABAA current in lamina II neurons had a larger contribution from α5GABAA Rs than in lamina I, with no significant contribution of these receptors to synaptic GABAA current. In behavioural tests, WT and Gabra5-/- mice exhibited similar acute thermal and mechanical nociception, and similar mechanical sensitization immediately following intraplantar capsaicin or Complete Freund's Adjuvant (CFA). However, Gabra5-/- mice showed prolonged recovery from sensitization in these models, and increased responses in the late phase of the formalin test. Overall, our data suggest that tonically-active α5GABAA Rs in the spinal cord dorsal horn accelerate the resolution of hyperalgesia and may therefore serve as a novel therapeutic target to promote recovery from pathological pain.


GABA; dorsal horn; inhibition; nociception; sensitization

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