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Concept: Nociceptor


A hallmark feature of chronic pain is its ability to impact other sensory and affective experiences. It is notably associated with hypersensitivity at the site of tissue injury. It is less clear, however, if chronic pain can also induce a generalized site-nonspecific enhancement in the aversive response to nociceptive inputs. Here, we showed that chronic pain in one limb in rats increased the aversive response to acute pain stimuli in the opposite limb, as assessed by conditioned place aversion. Interestingly, neural activities in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) correlated with noxious intensities, and optogenetic modulation of ACC neurons showed bidirectional control of the aversive response to acute pain. Chronic pain, however, altered acute pain intensity representation in the ACC to increase the aversive response to noxious stimuli at anatomically unrelated sites. Thus, chronic pain can disrupt cortical circuitry to enhance the aversive experience in a generalized anatomically nonspecific manner.

Concepts: Cerebrum, Pain, Nociception, Nociceptor, Brodmann area 24, Anterior cingulate cortex, Cingulate cortex, Insular cortex


The naked mole-rat is a subterranean rodent lacking several pain behaviors found in humans, rats, and mice. For example, nerve growth factor (NGF), an important mediator of pain sensitization, fails to produce thermal hyperalgesia in naked mole-rats. The sensitization of capsaicin-sensitive TRPV1 ion channels is necessary for NGF-induced hyperalgesia, but naked mole-rats have fully functional TRPV1 channels. We show that exposing isolated naked mole-rat nociceptors to NGF does not sensitize TRPV1. However, the naked mole-rat NGF receptor TrkA displays a reduced ability to engage signal transduction pathways that sensitize TRPV1. Between one- and three-amino-acid substitutions in the kinase domain of the naked mole-rat TrkA are sufficient to render the receptor hypofunctional, and this is associated with the absence of heat hyperalgesia. Our data suggest that evolution has selected for a TrkA variant that abolishes a robust nociceptive behavior in this species but is still compatible with species fitness.

Concepts: Immune system, Signal transduction, Growth factor, Hormone, Pain, Mammal, Nociceptor, Nerve growth factor


The EGFR belongs to the well-studied ErbB family of receptor tyrosine kinases. EGFR is activated by numerous endogenous ligands that promote cellular growth, proliferation, and tissue regeneration. In the present study, we have demonstrated a role for EGFR and its natural ligand, epiregulin (EREG), in pain processing. We show that inhibition of EGFR with clinically available compounds strongly reduced nocifensive behavior in mouse models of inflammatory and chronic pain. EREG-mediated activation of EGFR enhanced nociception through a mechanism involving the PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway and matrix metalloproteinase-9. Moreover, EREG application potentiated capsaicin-induced calcium influx in a subset of sensory neurons. Both the EGFR and EREG genes displayed a genetic association with the development of chronic pain in several clinical cohorts of temporomandibular disorder. Thus, EGFR and EREG may be suitable therapeutic targets for persistent pain conditions.

Concepts: Signal transduction, Developmental biology, Receptor tyrosine kinase, Protein kinase, Pain, Sensory system, Nociception, Nociceptor


Mechanical allodynia is a major symptom of neuropathic pain whereby innocuous touch evokes severe pain. Here we identify a population of peripheral sensory neurons expressing TrkB that are both necessary and sufficient for producing pain from light touch after nerve injury in mice. Mice in which TrkB-Cre-expressing neurons are ablated are less sensitive to the lightest touch under basal conditions, and fail to develop mechanical allodynia in a model of neuropathic pain. Moreover, selective optogenetic activation of these neurons after nerve injury evokes marked nociceptive behavior. Using a phototherapeutic approach based upon BDNF, the ligand for TrkB, we perform molecule-guided laser ablation of these neurons and achieve long-term retraction of TrkB-positive neurons from the skin and pronounced reversal of mechanical allodynia across multiple types of neuropathic pain. Thus we identify the peripheral neurons which transmit pain from light touch and uncover a novel pharmacological strategy for its treatment.

Concepts: Nervous system, Laser, Pain, Sensory system, Skin, Nociceptor, Necessary and sufficient condition, Sensory neuron


Cerebral processes contribute to pain beyond the level of nociceptive input and mediate psychological and behavioural influences. However, cerebral contributions beyond nociception are not yet well characterized, leading to a predominant focus on nociception when studying pain and developing interventions. Here we use functional magnetic resonance imaging combined with machine learning to develop a multivariate pattern signature-termed the stimulus intensity independent pain signature-1 (SIIPS1)-that predicts pain above and beyond nociceptive input in four training data sets (Studies 1-4, N=137). The SIIPS1 includes patterns of activity in nucleus accumbens, lateral prefrontal and parahippocampal cortices, and other regions. In cross-validated analyses of Studies 1-4 and in two independent test data sets (Studies 5-6, N=46), SIIPS1 responses explain variation in trial-by-trial pain ratings not captured by a previous fMRI-based marker for nociceptive pain. In addition, SIIPS1 responses mediate the pain-modulating effects of three psychological manipulations of expectations and perceived control. The SIIPS1 provides an extensible characterization of cerebral contributions to pain and specific brain targets for interventions.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Magnetic resonance imaging, Pain, Nociception, Nociceptor, Learning, Limbic system


The sensation of pain is associated with increased mortality, but it is unknown whether pain perception can directly affect aging. We find that mice lacking TRPV1 pain receptors are long-lived, displaying a youthful metabolic profile at old age. Loss of TRPV1 inactivates a calcium-signaling cascade that ends in the nuclear exclusion of the CREB-regulated transcriptional coactivator CRTC1 within pain sensory neurons originating from the spinal cord. In long-lived TRPV1 knockout mice, CRTC1 nuclear exclusion decreases production of the neuropeptide CGRP from sensory endings innervating the pancreatic islets, subsequently promoting insulin secretion and metabolic health. In contrast, CGRP homeostasis is disrupted with age in wild-type mice, resulting in metabolic decline. We show that pharmacologic inactivation of CGRP receptors in old wild-type animals can restore metabolic health. These data suggest that ablation of select pain sensory receptors or the inhibition of CGRP are associated with increased metabolic health and control longevity.

Concepts: Insulin, Gerontology, Pain, Sensory system, Nociceptor, Ageing, Aging, Sensory receptor


The gate control theory of pain proposes that inhibitory neurons of the spinal dorsal horn exert critical control over the relay of nociceptive signals to higher brain areas. Here we investigated how the glycinergic subpopulation of these neurons contributes to modality-specific pain and itch processing. We generated a GlyT2::Cre transgenic mouse line suitable for virus-mediated retrograde tracing studies and for spatially precise ablation, silencing, and activation of glycinergic neurons. We found that these neurons receive sensory input mainly from myelinated primary sensory neurons and that their local toxin-mediated ablation or silencing induces localized mechanical, heat, and cold hyperalgesia; spontaneous flinching behavior; and excessive licking and biting directed toward the corresponding skin territory. Conversely, local pharmacogenetic activation of the same neurons alleviated neuropathic hyperalgesia and chloroquine- and histamine-induced itch. These results establish glycinergic neurons of the spinal dorsal horn as key elements of an inhibitory pain and itch control circuit.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Action potential, Pain, Sensory system, Nociceptor, Neurotransmitter, Peripheral neuropathy


Here, we describe a targeted reverse genetic screen for thermal nociception genes in Drosophila larvae. Using laser capture microdissection and microarray analyses of nociceptive and non-nociceptive neurons, we identified 275 nociceptor-enriched genes. We then tested the function of the enriched genes with nociceptor-specific RNAi and thermal nociception assays. Tissue-specific RNAi targeted against 14 genes caused insensitive thermal nociception while targeting of 22 genes caused hypersensitive thermal nociception. Previously uncategorized genes were named for heat resistance (i.e., boilerman, fire dancer, oven mitt, trivet, thawb, and bunker gear) or heat sensitivity (firelighter, black match, eucalyptus, primacord, jet fuel, detonator, gasoline, smoke alarm, and jetboil). Insensitive nociception phenotypes were often associated with severely reduced branching of nociceptor neurites and hyperbranched dendrites were seen in two of the hypersensitive cases. Many genes that we identified are conserved in mammals.

Concepts: Gene, RNA, Classical genetics, Heat, Pain, Nociception, Nociceptor, Molecular genetics


Polypeptide toxins have played a central part in understanding physiological and physiopathological functions of ion channels. In the field of pain, they led to important advances in basic research and even to clinical applications. Acid-sensing ion channels (ASICs) are generally considered principal players in the pain pathway, including in humans. A snake toxin activating peripheral ASICs in nociceptive neurons has been recently shown to evoke pain. Here we show that a new class of three-finger peptides from another snake, the black mamba, is able to abolish pain through inhibition of ASICs expressed either in central or peripheral neurons. These peptides, which we call mambalgins, are not toxic in mice but show a potent analgesic effect upon central and peripheral injection that can be as strong as morphine. This effect is, however, resistant to naloxone, and mambalgins cause much less tolerance than morphine and no respiratory distress. Pharmacological inhibition by mambalgins combined with the use of knockdown and knockout animals indicates that blockade of heteromeric channels made of ASIC1a and ASIC2a subunits in central neurons and of ASIC1b-containing channels in nociceptors is involved in the analgesic effect of mambalgins. These findings identify new potential therapeutic targets for pain and introduce natural peptides that block them to produce a potent analgesia.

Concepts: Protein, Opioid, Pain, Nociception, Nociceptor, Morphine, Buprenorphine, Venom


neuropeptide substance P (SP) is produced and released by a subset of peripheral sensory neurons that respond to tissue damage (nociceptors). SP exerts excitatory effects in the CNS but peripheral SP actions are still poorly understood; therefore here we aimed to investigate these peripheral mechanisms.

Concepts: Effect, Pain, Sensory system, Nociception, Nociceptor, Neurotransmitter, Sensory receptor, Sensory neuron