Systemically administered dexmedetomidine (DEX), a selective α2 adrenergic receptor (α2-AR) agonists, produces analgesia and sedation. Peripherally restricted α2-AR antagonist could block the analgesic effect of systemic DEX on neuropathic pain, with no effect on sedation, indicating peripheral analgesic effect of DEX. Tetrodotoxin-resistant (TTX-R) sodium channel Na v1.8 play important roles in the conduction of nociceptive sensation. Both α2-AR and Nav1.8 are found in small nociceptive DRG neurons. We, therefore, investigated the effects of DEX on the Na v1.8 currents in acutely dissociated small-diameter DRG neurons.
Whole-cell patch-clamp recordings demonstrated that DEX concentration-dependently suppressed TTX-R Na v1.8 currents in small-diameter lumbar DRG neurons. DEX also shifted the steady-state inactivation curves of Na v1.8 in a hyperpolarizing direction and increased the threshold of action potential and decrease electrical and chemical stimuli-evoked firings in small-diameter DRG neurons. The α2-AR antagonist yohimbine or α2 A-AR antagonist BRL44408 but not α2 B-AR antagonist imiloxan blocked the inhibition of Na v1.8 currents by DEX. Immunohistochemistry results showed that Na v1.8 was predominantly expressed in peripherin-positive small-diameter DRG neurons, and some of them were α2 A-AR-positive ones. Our electrophysiological recordings also demonstrated that DEX-induced inhibition of Na v1.8 currents was prevented by intracellular application of G-protein inhibitor GDPβ-s or G i/o proteins inhibitor pertussis toxin (PTX), and bath application of adenylate cyclase (AC) activator forskolin or membrane-permeable cAMP analogue 8-Bromo-cAMP (8-Br-cAMP). PKA inhibitor Rp-cAMP could mimic DEX-induced inhibition of Na v1.8 currents.