The ventrolateral periaqueductal gray (vlPAG) constitutes a major descending pain modulatory system and is a crucial site for opioid-induced analgesia. A number of previous studies have demonstrated that glutamate and GABA play critical opposing roles in nociceptive processing in the vlPAG. It has been suggested that glutamatergic neurotransmission exerts antinociceptive effects, whereas GABAergic neurotransmission exert pro-nociceptive effects on pain transmission, through descending pathways. The inability to exclusively manipulate subpopulations of neurons in the PAG has prevented direct testing of this hypothesis. Here we demonstrate the different contributions of genetically-defined glutamatergic and GABAergic vlPAG neurons in nociceptive processing by employing cell type-specific chemogenetic approaches in mice. Global chemogenetic manipulation of vlPAG neuronal activity suggests that vlPAG neural circuits exert tonic suppression of nociception, consistent with previous pharmacological and electrophysiological studies. However, selective modulation of GABAergic or glutamatergic neurons demonstrates an inverse regulation of nociceptive behaviors by these cell populations. Selective chemogenetic activation of glutamatergic neurons, or inhibition of GABAergic neurons, in vlPAG suppresses nociception. In contrast, inhibition of glutamatergic neurons, or activation of GABAergic neurons, in vlPAG facilitates nociception. Our findings provide direct experimental support for a model in which excitatory and inhibitory neurons in the PAG bidirectionally modulate nociception.
Significance Statement The PAG is a midbrain region critical for the modulation of pain. However, the roles played by the distinct cell types within the PAG in nociceptive processing are poorly understood. This work addresses the divergent roles of glutamatergic and GABAergic PAG neuronal subpopulations in nociceptive processing. We demonstrate that activation of glutamatergic neurons or inhibition of GABAergic neurons suppresses nociception. Whereas inhibition of glutamatergic neuronal activity or activation of GABAergic neuronal activity potentiates nociception. This report identifies distinct roles for these neuronal populations in modulating nociceptive processing.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.