Purinergic receptor immunoreactivity in the rostral ventromedial medulla

L. N. Close, J. S. Cetas, M. M. Heinricher, N. R. Selden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM) has long been recognized to play a pivotal role in nociceptive modulation. Pro-nociception within the RVM is associated with a distinct functional class of neurons, ON-cells that begin to discharge immediately before nocifensive reflexes. Anti-nociceptive function within the RVM, including the analgesic response to opiates, is associated with another distinct class, OFF-cells, which pause immediately prior to nocifensive reflexes. A third class of RVM neurons, NEUTRAL-cells, does not alter firing in association with nocifensive reflexes. ON-, OFF- and NEUTRAL-cells show differential responsiveness to various behaviorally relevant neuromodulators, including purinergic ligands. Iontophoresis of semi-selective P2X ligands, which are associated with nociceptive transmission in the spinal cord and dorsal root ganglia, preferentially activate ON-cells. By contrast, P2Y ligands activate OFF-cells and P1 ligands suppress the firing of NEUTRAL cells. The current study investigates the distribution of P2X, P2Y and P1 receptor immunoreactivity in RVM neurons of Sprague-Dawley rats. Co-localization with tryptophan hydroxylase (TPH), a well-established marker for serotonergic neurons was also studied. Immunoreactivity for the four purinergic receptor subtypes examined was abundant in all anatomical subdivisions of the RVM. By contrast, TPH-immunoreactivity was restricted to a relatively small subset of RVM neurons concentrated in the nucleus raphe magnus and pallidus, as expected. There was a significant degree of co-localization of each purinergic receptor subtype with TPH-immunoreactivity. This co-localization was most pronounced for P2Y1 receptor immunoreactivity, although this was the least abundant among the different purinergic receptor subtypes examined. Immunoreactivity for multiple purinergic receptor subtypes was often co-localized in single neurons. These results confirm the physiological finding that purinergic receptors are widely expressed in the RVM. Purinergic neurotransmission in this region may play an important role in nociception and/or nociceptive modulation, as at other levels of the neuraxis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)915-921
Number of pages7
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 23 2009


  • RVM
  • immunohistochemistry
  • nociception
  • purinergic receptors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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