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J Neurotrauma. 2018 Aug 1;35(15):1755-1764. doi: 10.1089/neu.2017.5381. Epub 2018 Apr 20.

The Role of Ventral Tegmental Area Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid in Chronic Neuropathic Pain after Spinal Cord Injury in Rats.

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1 Department of Aroma Application Industry, Daegu Hanny University , Kyungsansi, South Korea .
2 Department of Physiology, College of Korean Medicine, Daegu Haany University , Daegu, South Korea .
3 Department of Anatomy, School of Medicine, Kyungpook National University , Daegu, South Korea .


Spinal cord injury (SCI) frequently results in chronic neuropathic pain (CNP). However, the understanding of brain neural circuits in CNP modulation is unclear. The present study examined the changes of ventral tegmental area (VTA) putative GABAergic and dopaminergic neuronal activity with CNP attenuation in rats. SCI was established by T10 clip compression injury (35 g, 1 min) in rats, and neuropathic pain behaviors, in vivo extracellular single-cell recording of putative VTA gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)/dopamine neurons, extracellular GABA level, glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD), and vesicular GABA transporters (VGATs) were measured in the VTA, respectively. The results revealed that extracellular GABA level was significantly increased in the CNP group (50.5 ± 18.9 nM) compared to the sham control group (10.2 ± 1.7 nM). In addition, expression of GAD65/67, c-Fos, and VGAT exhibited significant increases in the SCI groups compared to the sham control group. With regard to neuropathic pain behaviors, spontaneous pain measured by ultrasound vocalizations (USVs) and evoked pain measured by paw withdrawal thresholds showed significant alteration, which was reversed by intravenous (i.v.) administration of morphine (0.5-5.0 mg/kg). With regard to in vivo electrophysiology, VTA putative GABAergic neuronal activity (13.6 ± 1.7 spikes/sec) and putative dopaminergic neuronal activity (2.4 ± 0.8 spikes/sec) were increased and decreased, respectively, in the SCI group compared to the sham control group. These neuronal activities were reversed by i.v. administration of morphine. The present study suggests that chronic increase of GABAergic neuronal activity suppresses dopaminergic neuronal activity in the VTA and is responsible for negative emotion and motivation for attenuation of SCI-induced CNP.


GABA; VTA; dopamine; neuropathic pain; spinal cord injury


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