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Targeting new pathways to ease pain

Aug. 30, 2012, 7:00 AM

Noxious – and potentially painful – stimuli are processed first in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord, making this region a possible target for pain therapeutics. But the organization of the dorsal horn and the precise roles of its neuronal populations are incompletely understood.

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Laurie Lemons, Ph.D., and Ronald Wiley, M.D., Ph.D., investigated the role of dorsal horn neurons that respond to the signaling molecule neuropeptide Y (NPY). The researchers used a targeted toxin to selectively destroy neurons expressing the NPY receptor Y1R in rats. Then, they tested the rats’ behavioral responses – designed to require cerebral processing – to thermal and chemical pain stimuli.

They found that the loss of Y1R-expressing neurons reduced sensitivity to thermal stimuli and eliminated allodynia (pain from a non-painful stimulus – a common clinical pain-related problem), without interfering with the analgesic effects of morphine. The findings, reported in the Aug. 2 issue of Neuroscience, suggest that the spinal NPY system is an appropriate target for the development of new analgesic drugs.

This research was supported by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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