Neuropeptide Y in the rostral ventromedial medulla reverses inflammatory and nerve injury hyperalgesia in rats via non-selective excitation of local neurons

D. R. Cleary, Z. Roeder, R. Elkhatib, M. M. Heinricher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Chronic pain reflects not only sensitization of the ascending nociceptive pathways, but also changes in descending modulation. The rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM) is a key structure in a well-studied descending pathway, and contains two classes of modulatory neurons, the ON-cells and the OFF-cells. Disinhibition of OFF-cells depresses nociception; increased ON-cell activity facilitates nociception. Multiple lines of evidence show that sensitization of ON-cells contributes to chronic pain, and reversing or blocking this sensitization is of interest as a treatment of persistent pain. Neuropeptide Y (NPY) acting via the Y1 receptor has been shown to attenuate hypersensitivity in nerve-injured animals without affecting normal nociception when microinjected into the RVM, but the neural basis for this effect was unknown. We hypothesized that behavioral anti-hyperalgesia was due to selective inhibition of ON-cells by NPY at the Y1 receptor. To explore the possibility of Y1 selectivity on ON-cells, we stained for the NPY-Y1 receptor in the RVM, and found it broadly expressed on both serotonergic and non-serotonergic neurons. In subsequent behavioral experiments, NPY microinjected into the RVM in lightly anesthetized animals reversed signs of mechanical hyperalgesia following either nerve injury or chronic hindpaw inflammation. Unexpectedly, rather than decreasing ON-cell activity, NPY increased spontaneous activity of both ON- and OFF-cells without altering noxious-evoked changes in firing. Based on these results, we conclude that the anti-hyperalgesic effects of NPY in the RVM are not explained by selective inhibition of ON-cells, but rather by increased spontaneous activity of OFF-cells. Although ON-cells undoubtedly facilitate nociception and contribute to hypersensitivity, the present results highlight the importance of parallel OFF-cell-mediated descending inhibition in limiting the expression of chronic pain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-159
Number of pages11
StatePublished - Jun 20 2014


  • Descending pain modulation
  • NPY
  • Nociception
  • OFF-cells
  • ON-cells
  • Raphe magnus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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