Gliotransmission modulates baseline mechanical nociception

Abstract – Pain is a physiological and adaptive process which occurs to protect organisms from tissue damage and extended injury. Pain sensation beyond injury, however, is a pathological process which is poorly understood. Experimental models of neuropathic pain demonstrate that reactive astrocytes contribute to reduced nociceptive thresholds. Astrocytes release “gliotransmitters” such as D-serine, glutamate, and ATP, which is extracellularly hydrolyzed to adenosine. Adenosine 1 receptor activation in the spinal cord has anti-nociceptive effects on baseline pain threshold, but the source of the endogenous ligand (adenosine) in the spinal cord is unknown. In this study we used a transgenic mouse model in which SNARE-mediated gliotransmission was selectively attenuated (called dnSNARE mice) to investigate the role of astrocytes in mediating baseline nociception and the development of neuropathic pain. Under baseline conditions, immunostaining in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord showed astrocyte-specific transgene expression in dnSNARE mice, and no difference in expression levels of the astrocyte marker GFAP and the microglia marker Iba1 relative to wild-type mice. The Von Frey filament test was used to probe sensitivity to baseline mechanical pain thresholds and allodynia following the spared nerve injury model of neuropathic pain. DnSNARE mice exhibit a reduced nociceptive threshold in response to mechanical stimulation compared to wild-type mice under baseline conditions, but nociceptive thresholds following spared nerve injury were similar between dnSNARE and wild-types. This study is the first to provide evidence that gliotransmission contributes to basal mechanical nociception.