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Keywords:

  • anterior cingulate cortex;
  • descending facilitation;
  • dorsal reticular nucleus;
  • spinal nociception

Abstract

Supraspinal centres biphasically modulate spinal nociceptive transmission, including descending inhibition and facilitation. Recent studies have revealed that descending facilitatory modulation is a key mechanism underlying induction and maintenance of neuropathic and inflammatory pain. The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is not only involved in the transmission of pain sensation but also plays a role in processing pain-related emotion. The ACC also widely connects with relevant regions of the descending modulation system. Here we used electrophysiological and behavioural techniques to study the possible pathways behind the modulation of spinal nociceptive transmission from the ACC. C-fibre-evoked field potentials in the spinal dorsal horn were produced by electrical stimulation of the sciatic nerve at an intensity high enough to excite C fibres, and paw withdrawal latencies (PWLs) to noxious heating were recorded. The results showed that high-frequency tetanic electrical stimulation of the ACC both unilaterally enhanced the C-fibre-evoked field potentials in the spinal dorsal horn and bilaterally shortened PWLs, indicating a facilitation of spinal nociception. A similar effect was observed after microinjection of N-methyl-d-aspartic acid (NMDA; 10 nm, 1 µL) or homocysteic acid (HCA; 0.1 m, 1 µL) into the ACC. When the dorsal reticular nucleus (DRt) was electrolytically lesioned, ACC-induced facilitation of spinal nociception was blocked. These results imply that: (i) activation of the ACC may facilitate spinal nociception; (ii) NMDA receptors in the ACC may be involved in descending facilitation; and (iii) the DRt plays a crucial role in mediating ACC-induced facilitation of spinal nociception.