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      Optogenetic Manipulations of Amygdala Neurons Modulate Spinal Nociceptive Processing and Behavior Under Normal Conditions and in an Arthritis Pain Model


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          The amygdala is an important neural substrate for the emotional–affective dimension of pain and modulation of pain. The central nucleus (CeA) serves major amygdala output functions and receives nociceptive and affected–related information from the spino-parabrachial and lateral–basolateral amygdala (LA–BLA) networks. The CeA is a major site of extra–hypothalamic expression of corticotropin releasing factor (CRF, also known as corticotropin releasing hormone, CRH), and amygdala CRF neurons form widespread projections to target regions involved in behavioral and descending pain modulation. Here we explored the effects of modulating amygdala neurons on nociceptive processing in the spinal cord and on pain-like behaviors, using optogenetic activation or silencing of BLA to CeA projections and CeA–CRF neurons under normal conditions and in an acute pain model. Extracellular single unit recordings were made from spinal dorsal horn wide dynamic range (WDR) neurons, which respond more strongly to noxious than innocuous mechanical stimuli, in normal and arthritic adult rats (5–6 h postinduction of a kaolin/carrageenan–monoarthritis in the left knee). For optogenetic activation or silencing of CRF neurons, a Cre–inducible viral vector (DIO–AAV) encoding channelrhodopsin 2 (ChR2) or enhanced Natronomonas pharaonis halorhodopsin (eNpHR 3.0) was injected stereotaxically into the right CeA of transgenic Crh–Cre rats. For optogenetic activation or silencing of BLA axon terminals in the CeA, a viral vector (AAV) encoding ChR2 or eNpHR 3.0 under the control of the CaMKII promoter was injected stereotaxically into the right BLA of Sprague–Dawley rats. For wireless optical stimulation of ChR2 or eNpHR 3.0 expressing CeA–CRF neurons or BLA–CeA axon terminals, an LED optic fiber was stereotaxically implanted into the right CeA. Optical activation of CeA–CRF neurons or of BLA axon terminals in the CeA increased the evoked responses of spinal WDR neurons and induced pain-like behaviors (hypersensitivity and vocalizations) under normal condition. Conversely, optical silencing of CeA–CRF neurons or of BLA axon terminals in the CeA decreased the evoked responses of spinal WDR neurons and vocalizations, but not hypersensitivity, in the arthritis pain model. These findings suggest that the amygdala can drive the activity of spinal cord neurons and pain-like behaviors under normal conditions and in a pain model.

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          Most cited references72

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          From circuits to behaviour in the amygdala.

          The amygdala has long been associated with emotion and motivation, playing an essential part in processing both fearful and rewarding environmental stimuli. How can a single structure be crucial for such different functions? With recent technological advances that allow for causal investigations of specific neural circuit elements, we can now begin to map the complex anatomical connections of the amygdala onto behavioural function. Understanding how the amygdala contributes to a wide array of behaviours requires the study of distinct amygdala circuits.
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            Chronic pain is one of the most prevalent health problems in our modern world, with millions of people debilitated by conditions such as back pain, headache and arthritis. To address this growing problem, many people are turning to mind-body therapies, including meditation, yoga and cognitive behavioural therapy. This article will review the neural mechanisms underlying the modulation of pain by cognitive and emotional states - important components of mind-body therapies. It will also examine the accumulating evidence that chronic pain itself alters brain circuitry, including that involved in endogenous pain control, suggesting that controlling pain becomes increasingly difficult as pain becomes chronic.
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              Genetic dissection of an amygdala microcircuit that gates conditioned fear

              The role of different amygdala nuclei (neuroanatomical subdivisions) in processing Pavlovian conditioned fear has been studied extensively, but the function of the heterogeneous neuronal subtypes within these nuclei remains poorly understood. We used molecular genetic approaches to map the functional connectivity of a subpopulation of GABAergic neurons, located in the lateral subdivision of the central amygdala (CEl), which express protein kinase C-delta (PKCδ). Channelrhodopsin-2 assisted circuit mapping in amygdala slices and cell-specific viral tracing indicate that PKCδ+ neurons inhibit output neurons in the medial CE (CEm), and also make reciprocal inhibitory synapses with PKCδ− neurons in CEl. Electrical silencing of PKCδ+ neurons in vivo suggests that they correspond to physiologically identified units that are inhibited by the conditioned stimulus (CS), called CEloff units (Ciocchi et al, this issue). This correspondence, together with behavioral data, defines an inhibitory microcircuit in CEl that gates CEm output to control the level of conditioned freezing.

                Author and article information

                Front Pharmacol
                Front Pharmacol
                Front. Pharmacol.
                Frontiers in Pharmacology
                Frontiers Media S.A.
                25 May 2021
                : 12
                : 668337
                [ 1 ]Department of Pharmacology and Neuroscience, School of Medicine, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Lubbock, TX, United States
                [ 2 ]Center of Excellence for Translational Neuroscience and Therapeutics, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Lubbock, TX, United States
                [ 3 ]Garrison Institute on Aging, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Lubbock, TX, United States
                Author notes

                Edited by: Serena Boccella, University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli, Italy

                Reviewed by: Vijay K Samineni, Washington University in St. Louis, United States

                Eugene Dimitrov, Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, United States

                Benedict Kolber, The University of Texas at Dallas, United States

                *Correspondence: Volker Neugebauer, volker.neugebauer@ 123456ttuhsc.edu

                This article was submitted to Inflammation Pharmacology, a section of the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology

                Copyright © 2021 Mazzitelli, Marshall, Pham, Ji and Neugebauer.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

                : 16 February 2021
                : 15 April 2021
                Original Research

                Pharmacology & Pharmaceutical medicine
                amygdala,spinal dorsal horn,pain modulation,optogenetics,electrophysiology,corticotropin releasing hormone,corticotropin releasing factor


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