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Pain. 2018 Jan;159(1):92-105. doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001068.

Pyrethroids inhibit K2P channels and activate sensory neurons: basis of insecticide-induced paraesthesias.

Castellanos A1,2,3, Andres A1,2,3, Bernal L4, Callejo G1,2,3, Comes N1,2,3, Gual A1,2,3, Giblin JP1,2,3, Roza C4, Gasull X1,2,3.

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Neurophysiology Laboratory, Physiology Unit, Department of Biomedicine, Medical School, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain.
Institute of Neurosciences, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain.
Institut d'Investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer (IDIBAPS), Barcelona, Spain.
Dpto. Biología de Sistemas, Edificio de Medicina Universidad de Alcalá, Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain.


Pyrethroid insecticides are widely used for pest control in agriculture or in human public health commonly as a topical treatment for scabies and head lice. Exposure to pyrethroids such as permethrin or tetramethrin (TM) causes sensory alterations such as transient pain, burning, stinging sensations, and paraesthesias. Despite the well-known effects of pyrethroids on sodium channels, actions on other channels that control sensory neuron excitability are less studied. Given the role of 2-pore domain potassium (K2P) channels in modulating sensory neuron excitability and firing, both in physiological and pathological conditions, we examined the effect of pyrethroids on K2P channels mainly expressed in sensory neurons. Through electrophysiological and calcium imaging experiments, we show that a high percentage of TM-responding neurons were nociceptors, which were also activated by TRPA1 and/or TRPV1 agonists. This pyrethroid also activated and enhanced the excitability of peripheral saphenous nerve fibers. Pyrethroids produced a significant inhibition of native TRESK, TRAAK, TREK-1, and TREK-2 currents. Similar effects were found in transfected HEK293 cells. At the behavioral level, intradermal TM injection in the mouse paw produced nocifensive responses and caused mechanical allodynia, demonstrating that the effects seen on nociceptors in culture lead to pain-associated behaviors in vivo. In TRESK knockout mice, pain-associated behaviors elicited by TM were enhanced, providing further evidence for a role of this channel in preventing excessive neuronal activation. Our results indicate that inhibition of K2P channels facilitates sensory neuron activation and increases their excitability. These effects contribute to the generation of paraesthesias and pain after pyrethroid exposure.

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