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Pain-related increase of excitatory transmission and decrease of inhibitory transmission in the central nucleus of the amygdala are mediated by mGluR1

Wenjie Ren and Volker Neugebauer*

Author Affiliations

Department of Neuroscience & Cell Biology, The University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas 77555-1069, USA

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Molecular Pain 2010, 6:93  doi:10.1186/1744-8069-6-93

Published: 16 December 2010


Neuroplasticity in the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA), particularly its latero-capsular division (CeLC), is an important contributor to the emotional-affective aspects of pain. Previous studies showed synaptic plasticity of excitatory transmission to the CeLC in different pain models, but pain-related changes of inhibitory transmission remain to be determined. The CeLC receives convergent excitatory inputs from the parabrachial nucleus in the brainstem and from the basolateral amygdala (BLA). In addition, feedforward inhibition of CeA neurons is driven by glutamatergic projections from the BLA area to a cluster of GABAergic neurons in the intercalated cell masses (ITC). Using patch-clamp in rat brain slices we measured monosynaptic excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) and polysynaptic inhibitory currents (IPSCs) that were evoked by electrical stimulation in the BLA. In brain slices from arthritic rats, input-output functions of excitatory synaptic transmission were enhanced whereas inhibitory synaptic transmission was decreased compared to control slices from normal untreated rats. A non-NMDA receptor antagonist (NBQX) blocked the EPSCs and reduced the IPSCs, suggesting that non-NMDA receptors mediate excitatory transmission and also contribute to glutamate-driven feed-forward inhibition of CeLC neurons. IPSCs were blocked by a GABAA receptor antagonist (bicuculline). Bicuculline increased EPSCs under normal conditions but not in slices from arthritic rats, which indicates a loss of GABAergic control of excitatory transmission. A metabotropic glutamate receptor subtype 1 (mGluR1) antagonist (LY367385) reversed both the increase of excitatory transmission and the decrease of inhibitory transmission in the arthritis pain model but had no effect on basal synaptic transmission in control slices from normal rats. The inhibitory effect of LY367385 on excitatory transmission was blocked by bicuculline suggesting the involvement of a GABAergic mechanism. An mGluR5 antagonist (MTEP) inhibited both excitatory and inhibitory transmission in slices from normal and from arthritic rats. The analysis of spontaneous and miniature EPSCs and IPSCs showed that mGluR1 acted presynaptically whereas mGluR5 had postsynaptic effects. In conclusion, mGluR1 rather than mGluR5 can account for the pain-related changes of excitatory and inhibitory synaptic transmission in the CeLC through a mechanism that involves inhibition of inhibitory transmission (disinhibition).