Background & Aims: Pain is a main complaint of patients with pancreatitis. We hypothesized that such pain is mediated through ascending pathways via the nucleus gracilis (NG) and is dependent on descending facilitatory influences from the rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM). Methods: A rat model of persistent experimental pancreatitis was used. After establishment of pancreatitis, rats received microinjection of lidocaine in the NG or in the RVM to determine the importance of neural activity at these supraspinal sites in the expression of abdominal hypersensitivity evoked by von Frey filaments (ie, pancreatic pain). Rats also were pretreated for 28 days before induction of pancreatitis with a single RVM microinjection of dermorphin-saporin to eliminate cells that drive descending facilitation. Dynorphin content was measured in the spinal cord of pancreatitic rats and the effects of spinal antidynorphin antiserum in pancreatic pain were assessed. Results: Microinjection of lidocaine into either the NG or the RVM produced a time-related reversal of pancreatitis-induced pain. Pancreatitis significantly increased thoracic spinal dynorphin content and spinal antidynorphin antiserum elicited a time-related reversal of abdominal hypersensitivity. RVM dermorphin-saporin injection prevented the maintenance, but not the expression, of pancreatitis abdominal hypersensitivity and also prevented the increase of spinal dynorphin content in animals with pancreatitis. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that descending facilitation from the RVM plays a critical role in the maintenance, but not the expression, of pancreatic pain. These results provide a novel insight into the role of descending pathways and spinal plasticity in the maintenance of visceral pain from pancreatitis.
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