The influence of the dorsal reticular nucleus (DRt) on pain behaviour during the formalin test was studied in the rat by lesioning the nucleus through local application of electrical current or quinolinic acid. Animals in which the DRt was lesioned ipsilaterally to the paw injected with formalin spent less time in focused (licking, biting or scratching the injected paw) and total (focused pain behaviour plus protection of the injected paw during movements) pain behaviour, and showed paw-jerks less frequently than non-lesioned animals in both phases 1 and 2 of the test. Animals in which the DRt was lesioned contralaterally to the injected paw presented a decrease in total pain behaviour and number of paw-jerks only during phase 2. The number of superficial (laminae I–II) and deep (laminae III–VI) spinal dorsal horn cells expressing the c-fos proto-oncogene 2 h after subcutaneous injection of formalin was reduced by 34% and 50%, respectively, in animals with an ipsilateral DRt lesion as compared to non-lesioned rats. No differences in c-fos expression were observed after lesioning the DRt contralateral to the formalin injection.
The results indicate that the DRt is involved in the facilitation of nociception during the formalin test by enhancing the response capacity of dorsal horn neurons to noxious stimulation. It is suggested that the pronociceptive action of the DRt is mediated by the reciprocal connections it establishes with the spinal dorsal horn [Almeida et al. (1993) Neuroscience, 55, 1093].