Supraspinal opioid circuits differentially modulate spinal neuronal responses in neuropathic rats

Anthony H. Dickenson, Edita Navratilova, Ryan Patel, Frank Porreca, Kirsty Bannister

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Background: The anterior cingulate cortex and central nucleus of the amygdala connect widely with brainstem nuclei involved in descending modulation, including the rostral ventromedial medulla. Endogenous opioids in these circuits participate in pain modulation. The hypothesis was that a differential opioidergic role for the brain nuclei listed in regulation of spinal neuronal responses because separable effects on pain behaviors in awake animals were previously observed. Methods: This study utilized in vivo electrophysiology to determine the effects of morphine microinjection into the anterior cingulate cortex, right or left central nucleus of the amygdala, or the rostral ventromedial medulla on spinal wide dynamic range neuronal responses in isofurane-anesthetized, male Sprague-Dawley rats. Ongoing activity in the ventrobasal thalamus was also measured. In total, 33 spinal nerve ligated and 26 control age- and weight-matched control rats were used. Results: Brainstem morphine reduced neuronal fring to 60-g von Frey stimulation in control rats (to 65 ± 12% of control response (means ± 95% CI), P < 0.001) with a greater inhibition in neuropathic rats (to 53 ± 17% of control response, P < 0.001). Contrasting anterior cingulate cortex morphine had only marginal modulatory effects on spinal neuronal responses with limited variance in effect between control and neuropathic rats. The inhibitory effects of morphine in the central nucleus of the amygdala were dependent on pain state and laterality; only right-side morphine reduced neuronal fring to 60-g stimulation in neuropathic rats (to 65 ± 14% of control response, P = 0.001). In addition, in neuropathic rats elevated ongoing neuronal activity in the ventral posterolateral thalamus was not inhibited by anterior cingulate cortex morphine, in contrast to evoked responses. conclusions: Cumulatively the data support opioid modulation of evoked responses predominately through a lateralized output from the right amygdala, as well as from the brainstem that is enhanced in injured conditions. Minimal modulation of dorsal horn responses was observed after anterior cingulate cortex opioid administration regardless of injury state.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)881-894
Number of pages14
StateAccepted/In press - 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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