Prolonged intracellular calcium elevation contributes to sensitization of nociceptors and chronic pain in inflammatory conditions. The underlying molecular mechanisms remain unknown but store-operated calcium entry (SOCE) components participate in calcium homeostasis, potentially playing a significant role in chronic pain pathologies. Most G protein-coupled receptors activated by inflammatory mediators trigger calcium-dependent signaling pathways and stimulate SOCE in primary afferents. The aim of the present study was to investigate the role of TRPC3, a calcium-permeable non-selective cation channel coupled to phospholipase C and highly expressed in DRG, as a link between activation of pro-inflammatory metabotropic receptors and SOCE in nociceptive pathways.
Cutaneous mechanosensory neurons detect mechanical stimuli that generate touch and pain sensation. Although opioids are generally associated only with the control of pain, here we report that the opioid system in fact broadly regulates cutaneous mechanosensation, including touch. This function is predominantly subserved by the delta opioid receptor (DOR), which is expressed by myelinated mechanoreceptors that form Meissner corpuscles, Merkel cell-neurite complexes, and circumferential hair follicle endings. These afferents also include a small population of CGRP-expressing myelinated nociceptors that we now identify as the somatosensory neurons that coexpress mu and delta opioid receptors. We further demonstrate that DOR activation at the central terminals of myelinated mechanoreceptors depresses synaptic input to the spinal dorsal horn, via the inhibition of voltage-gated calcium channels. Collectively our results uncover a molecular mechanism by which opioids modulate cutaneous mechanosensation and provide a rationale for targeting DOR to alleviate injury-induced mechanical hypersensitivity.
The heat and capsaicin receptor, TRPV1, is required for the detection of painful heat by primary afferent pain fibers (nociceptors), but the extent to which functional TRPV1 channels are expressed in the CNS is debated. Because previous evidence is based primarily on indirect physiological responses to capsaicin, here we genetically modified the Trpv1 locus to reveal, with excellent sensitivity and specificity, the distribution of TRPV1 in all neuronal and non-neuronal tissues. In contrast to reports of widespread and robust expression in the CNS, we find that neuronal TRPV1 is primarily restricted to nociceptors in primary sensory ganglia, with minimal expression in a few discrete brain regions, most notably in a contiguous band of cells within and adjacent to the caudal hypothalamus. We confirm hypothalamic expression in the mouse using several complementary approaches, including in situ hybridization, calcium imaging, and electrophysiological recordings. Additional in situ hybridization experiments in rat, monkey, and human brain demonstrate that the restricted expression of TRPV1 in the CNS is conserved across species. Outside of the CNS, we find TRPV1 expression in a subset of arteriolar smooth muscle cells within thermoregulatory tissues. Here, capsaicin increases calcium uptake and induces vasoconstriction, an effect that likely counteracts the vasodilation produced by activation of neuronal TRPV1.
Comparison of human, rat and mouse cannabinoid CB(2) receptor primary sequences has shown significant divergence at the mRNA and protein sequence level, raising the possibility of species specific pharmacological properties. Additionally, given the importance of the dog as a non-rodent species for predicting human safety during the drug development process, we cloned the dog CB(2) receptor gene and characterized its in-vitro pharmacological properties in a recombinant expression system. A 1.1 kb dog peripheral cannabinoid receptor (dCB(2)) fragment encoding a 360 amino acid protein was cloned from dog spleen cDNA. Analysis of the cloned dCB(2) polypeptide sequence revealed that it shares between 76 and 82% homology with rat, mouse, human and predicted chimpanzee cannabinoid CB(2) receptors. The dog CB(2) receptor expressed in CHO cells displayed similar binding affinities for various synthetic and endogenous cannabinoids as compared to those measured for the human and rat cannabinoid CB(2) receptors. However, these ligands exhibited altered functional potencies and efficacies for the dog cannabinoid CB(2) receptor, which was also found to be negatively coupled to adenylate cyclase activity. These complex pharmacological differences observed across species for the cannabinoid CB(2) receptor suggest that caution should be exerted when analyzing the outcome of animal efficacy and safety studies, notably those involving cannabinoid CB(2) receptor targeting molecules tested in the dog.
Increased neuronal excitability and spontaneous firing are hallmark characteristics of injured sensory neurons. Changes in expression of various voltage-gated Na+ channels (VGSCs) have been observed under neuropathic conditions and there is evidence for the involvement of protein kinase C (PKC) in sensory hyperexcitability. Here we demonstrate the contribution of PKC to P2X-evoked VGSC activation in dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons in neuropathic conditions.
Delta and mu opioid receptors (DORs and MORs) are inhibitory G protein-coupled receptors that reportedly cooperatively regulate the transmission of pain messages by substance P and TRPV1-expressing pain fibers. Using a DOReGFP reporter mouse we now show that the DOR and MOR are, in fact, expressed by different subsets of primary afferents. The MOR is expressed in peptidergic pain fibers, the DOR in myelinated and nonpeptidergic afferents. Contrary to the prevailing view, we demonstrate that the DOR is trafficked to the cell surface under resting conditions, independently of substance P, and internalized following activation by DOR agonists. Finally, we show that the segregated DOR and MOR distribution is paralleled by a remarkably selective functional contribution of the two receptors to the control of mechanical and heat pain, respectively. These results demonstrate that behaviorally relevant pain modalities can be selectively regulated through the targeting of distinct subsets of primary afferent pain fibers.
Sensory neuron-specific receptors (SNSRs) belong to a large family of GPCRs, known as Mrgs (Mas-related genes), many of which are preferentially expressed in primary afferent nociceptors. Selective SNSR agonists produce pain-like behaviors in rats, showing that SNSR activation is sufficient to produce pain. However, it is unknown whether SNSR activation is necessary for pain either in the normal condition or in pathological pain states. Here we used small interfering RNA (siRNA) to acutely knockdown rat SNSR1 and test the hypothesis that this receptor mediates pain responses. Administration of siRNA to the lumbar spinal cord in rats dose-dependently knocked down rSNSR1 mRNA and protein and abolished heat hyperalgesia evoked by intradermal administration of specific rSNSR1 agonists. In rats with levels of rSNSR1 knockdown sufficient to block responses to the SNSR1 agonists, there was no effect on normal pain responses, but there was a significant reduction of heat hyperalgesia in an inflammatory pain model (Complete Freunds Adjuvant), supporting a role for rSNSR1 in inflammatory pain. Further in vivo studies revealed that SNSR1 knockdown had no effect on responses to intradermal capsaicin, a selective TRPV1 agonist. In contrast, a selective TRPV1 antagonist abolished heat hyperalgesia produced by an SNSR agonist, suggesting that TRPV1 receptors mediate rSNSR1-evoked responses. We also found that rSNSR1-like immunoreactivity, like TRPV1, is localized in the superficial dorsal horn of the spinal cord. We propose that rSNSR1 represents a new member of the receptors expressed on chemosensitive nociceptors responsible for detecting the "inflammatory soup" of mediators generated by tissue damage.
Evidence suggesting the involvement of P2X2 and P2X3 in chronic pain has been obtained mostly from rodent models. Here we show that rodents may be poor predictors of P2X3 pharmacology in human. We demonstrate that monkey and human dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons do not express appreciable levels of P2X2 subunit, contrary to rat sensory neurons. Additionally, we report functional P2X3 activity in monkey DRG neurons and confirm the absence of functional P2X2/3 receptors. Interestingly, native P2X3 receptors in rat and monkey DRGs show similar agonist potency, but different antagonist potencies for TNP-ATP [2-O-(2,4,6-trinitrophenyl)-ATP] and RO51. This unexpected difference in antagonist potency was confirmed by comparing rat and human P2X3 receptors in HEK293 cells. Mutagenesis studies reveal that two extracellular residues, A197 and T202, are synergistically responsible for the potency drop in primate P2X3 receptors. These results uncover species-specific P2X3 pharmacology and identify key mechanisms impacting the translatability of potential analgesics targeting P2X3 receptors.
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