Open Access Research

Evidence for a role of NTS2 receptors in the modulation of tonic pain sensitivity

Geneviève Roussy1, Marc-André Dansereau1, Stéphanie Baudisson1, Faouzi Ezzoubaa2, Karine Belleville1, Nicolas Beaudet1, Jean Martinez3, Elliott Richelson2 and Philippe Sarret1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Université de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada

2 Department of Psychiatry and Psychology, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Jacksonville, FL 32224, USA

3 CNRS UMR 5247, IBMM, Universités Montpellier 1 & 2, 34095 Montpellier, France

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Molecular Pain 2009, 5:38  doi:10.1186/1744-8069-5-38

Published: 6 July 2009

Abstract

Background

Central neurotensin (NT) administration results in a naloxone-insensitive antinociceptive response in animal models of acute and persistent pain. Both NTS1 and NTS2 receptors were shown to be required for different aspects of NT-induced analgesia. We recently demonstrated that NTS2 receptors were extensively associated with ascending nociceptive pathways, both at the level of the dorsal root ganglia and of the spinal dorsal horn. Then, we found that spinally administered NTS2-selective agonists induced dose-dependent antinociceptive responses in the acute tail-flick test. In the present study, we therefore investigated whether activation of spinal NTS2 receptors suppressed the persistent inflammatory pain symptoms observed after intraplantar injection of formalin.

Results

We first demonstrated that spinally administered NT and NT69L agonists, which bind to both NTS1 and NTS2 receptors, significantly reduced pain-evoked responses during the inflammatory phase of the formalin test. Accordingly, pretreatment with the NTS2-selective analogs JMV-431 and levocabastine was effective in inhibiting the aversive behaviors induced by formalin. With resolution at the single-cell level, we also found that activation of spinal NTS2 receptors reduced formalin-induced c-fos expression in dorsal horn neurons. However, our results also suggest that NTS2-selective agonists and NTS1/NTS2 mixed compounds differently modulated the early (21–39 min) and late (40–60 min) tonic phase 2 and recruited endogenous pain inhibitory mechanisms integrated at different levels of the central nervous system. Indeed, while non-selective drugs suppressed pain-related behaviors activity in both part of phase 2, intrathecal injection of NTS2-selective agonists was only efficient in reducing pain during the late phase 2. Furthermore, assessment of the stereotypic pain behaviors of lifting, shaking, licking and biting to formalin also revealed that unlike non-discriminative NTS1/NTS2 analogs reversing all nociceptive endpoint behaviors, pure NTS2 agonists specifically inhibited paw lifting, supporting a role of NTS2 in spinal modulation of persistent nociception.

Conclusion

The present study provides the first demonstration that activation of NTS2 receptors produces analgesia in the persistent inflammatory pain model of formalin. The dichotomy between these two classes of compounds also indicates that both NTS1 and NTS2 receptors are involved in tonic pain inhibition and implies that these two NT receptors modulate the pain-induced behavioral responses by acting on distinct spinal and/or supraspinal neural circuits. In conclusion, development of NT agonists targeting both NTS1 and NTS2 receptors could be useful for chronic pain management.