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J Physiol. 2017 Dec 1;595(23):7185-7202. doi: 10.1113/JP274926. Epub 2017 Oct 19.

Heteromeric α/β glycine receptors regulate excitability in parvalbumin-expressing dorsal horn neurons through phasic and tonic glycinergic inhibition.

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School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy, Faculty of Health, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW, Australia.
Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI), New Lambton Heights, NSW, Australia.
Institute of Neuroscience Psychology, College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK.



Spinal parvalbumin-expressing interneurons have been identified as a critical source of inhibition to regulate sensory thresholds by gating mechanical inputs in the dorsal horn. This study assessed the inhibitory regulation of the parvalbumin-expressing interneurons, showing that synaptic and tonic glycinergic currents dominate, blocking neuronal or glial glycine transporters enhances tonic glycinergic currents, and these manipulations reduce excitability. Synaptically released glycine also enhanced tonic glycinergic currents and resulted in decreased parvalbumin-expressing interneuron excitability. Analysis of the glycine receptor properties mediating inhibition of parvalbumin neurons, as well as single channel recordings, indicates that heteromeric α/β subunit-containing receptors underlie both synaptic and tonic glycinergic currents. Our findings indicate that glycinergic inhibition provides critical control of excitability in parvalbumin-expressing interneurons in the dorsal horn and represents a pharmacological target to manipulate spinal sensory processing.


The dorsal horn (DH) of the spinal cord is an important site for modality-specific processing of sensory information and is essential for contextually relevant sensory experience. Parvalbumin-expressing inhibitory interneurons (PV+ INs) have functional properties and connectivity that enables them to segregate tactile and nociceptive information. Here we examine inhibitory drive to PV+ INs using targeted patch-clamp recording in spinal cord slices from adult transgenic mice that express enhanced green fluorescent protein in PV+ INs. Analysis of inhibitory synaptic currents showed glycinergic transmission is the dominant form of phasic inhibition to PV+ INs. In addition, PV+ INs expressed robust glycine-mediated tonic currents; however, we found no evidence for tonic GABAergic currents. Manipulation of extracellular glycine by blocking either, or both, the glial and neuronal glycine transporters markedly decreased PV+ IN excitability, as assessed by action potential discharge. This decreased excitability was replicated when tonic glycinergic currents were increased by electrically activating glycinergic synapses. Finally, we show that both phasic and tonic forms of glycinergic inhibition are mediated by heteromeric α/β glycine receptors. This differs from GABAA receptors in the dorsal horn, where different receptor stoichiometries underlie phasic and tonic inhibition. Together these data suggest both phasic and tonic glycinergic inhibition regulate the output of PV+ INs and contribute to the processing and segregation of tactile and nociceptive information. The shared stoichiometry for phasic and tonic glycine receptors suggests pharmacology is unlikely to be able to selectively target each form of inhibition in PV+ INs.


dorsal horn; extrasynaptic receptors; glycine receptors; inhibition; pain

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