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1.  Extracellular caspase-6 drives murine inflammatory pain via microglial TNF-α secretion 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2014;124(3):1173-1186.
Increasing evidence indicates that the pathogenesis of neuropathic pain is mediated through spinal cord microglia activation. The intracellular protease caspase-6 (CASP6) is known to regulate neuronal apoptosis and axonal degeneration; however, the contribution of microglia and CASP6 in modulating synaptic transmission and pain is unclear. Here, we found that CASP6 is expressed specifically in C-fiber axonal terminals in the superficial spinal cord dorsal horn. Animals exposed to intraplantar formalin or bradykinin injection exhibited CASP6 activation in the dorsal horn. Casp6-null mice had normal baseline pain, but impaired inflammatory pain responses. Furthermore, formalin-induced second-phase pain was suppressed by spinal injection of CASP6 inhibitor or CASP6-neutralizing antibody, as well as perisciatic nerve injection of CASP6 siRNA. Recombinant CASP6 (rCASP6) induced marked TNF-α release in microglial cultures, and most microglia within the spinal cord expressed Tnfa. Spinal injection of rCASP6 elicited TNF-α production and microglia-dependent pain hypersensitivity. Evaluation of excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) revealed that rCASP6 rapidly increased synaptic transmission in spinal cord slices via TNF-α release. Interestingly, the microglial inhibitor minocycline suppressed rCASP6 but not TNF-α–induced synaptic potentiation. Finally, rCASP6-activated microglial culture medium increased EPSCs in spinal cord slices via TNF-α. Together, these data suggest that CASP6 released from axonal terminals regulates microglial TNF-α secretion, synaptic plasticity, and inflammatory pain.
doi:10.1172/JCI72230
PMCID: PMC3934175  PMID: 24531553
2.  Loss of NR1 Subunit of NMDARs in Primary Sensory Neurons Leads to Hyperexcitability and Pain Hypersensitivity: Involvement of Ca2+-Activated Small Conductance Potassium Channels 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2013;33(33):13425-13430.
It is well established that activation of NMDARs plays an essential role in spinal cord synaptic plasticity (i.e., central sensitization) and pain hypersensitivity after tissue injury. Despite prominent expression of NMDARs in DRG primary sensory neurons, the unique role of peripheral NMDARs in regulating intrinsic neuronal excitability and pain sensitivity is not well understood, in part due to the lack of selective molecular tools. To address this problem, we used Advillin-Cre driver to delete the NR1 subunit of NMDARs selectively in DRG neurons. In NR1 conditional knock-out (NR1-cKO) mice, NR1 expression is absent in DRG neurons but remains normal in spinal cord neurons; NMDA-induced currents are also eliminated in DRG neurons of these mice. Surprisingly, NR1-cKO mice displayed mechanical and thermal hypersensitivity compared with wild-type littermates. NR1-deficient DRG neurons show increased excitability, as indicated by increased frequency of action potentials, and enhanced excitatory synaptic transmission in spinal cord slices, as indicated by increased frequency of miniature EPSCs. This hyperexcitability can be reproduced by the NMDAR antagonist APV and by Ca2+-activated slow conductance K+ (SK) channel blocker apamin. Furthermore, NR1-positive DRG neurons coexpress SK1/SK2 and apamin-sensitive afterhyperpolarization currents are elevated by NMDA and suppressed by APV in these neurons. Our findings reveal the hitherto unsuspected role of NMDARs in controlling the intrinsic excitability of primary sensory neurons possibly via Ca2+-activated SK channels. Our results also call attention to potential opposing effects of NMDAR antagonists as a treatment for pain and other neurological disorders.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0454-13.2013
PMCID: PMC3742928  PMID: 23946399
3.  5,6-EET Is Released upon Neuronal Activity and Induces Mechanical Pain Hypersensitivity via TRPA1 on Central Afferent Terminals 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2012;32(18):6364-6372.
Epoxyeicosatrienoic acids (EETs) are cytochrome P450-epoxygenase-derived metabolites of arachidonic acid that act as endogenous signaling molecules in multiple biological systems. Here we have investigated the specific contribution of 5,6-EET to transient receptor potential (TRP) channel activation in nociceptor neurons and its consequence for nociceptive processing. We found that, during capsaicin-induced nociception, 5,6-EET levels increased in dorsal root ganglia (DRGs) and the dorsal spinal cord, and 5,6-EET is released from activated sensory neurons in vitro. 5,6-EET potently induced a calcium flux (100 nm) in cultured DRG neurons that was completely abolished when TRPA1 was deleted or inhibited. In spinal cord slices, 5,6-EET dose dependently enhanced the frequency, but not the amplitude, of spontaneous EPSCs (sEPSCs) in lamina II neurons that also responded to mustard oil (allyl isothiocyanate), indicating a presynaptic action. Furthermore, 5,6-EET-induced enhancement of sEPSC frequency was abolished in TRPA1-null mice, suggesting that 5,6-EET presynaptically facilitated spinal cord synaptic transmission by TRPA1. Finally, in vivo intrathecal injection of 5,6-EET caused mechanical allodynia in wild-type but not TRPA1-null mice. We conclude that 5,6-EET is synthesized on the acute activation of nociceptors and can produce mechanical hypersensitivity via TRPA1 at central afferent terminals in the spinal cord.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5793-11.2012
PMCID: PMC3359875  PMID: 22553041
4.  TLR3 deficiency impairs spinal cord synaptic transmission, central sensitization, and pruritus in mice 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2012;122(6):2195-2207.
Itch, also known as pruritus, is a common, intractable symptom of several skin diseases, such as atopic dermatitis and xerosis. TLRs mediate innate immunity and regulate neuropathic pain, but their roles in pruritus are elusive. Here, we report that scratching behaviors induced by histamine-dependent and -independent pruritogens are markedly reduced in mice lacking the Tlr3 gene. TLR3 is expressed mainly by small-sized primary sensory neurons in dorsal root ganglions (DRGs) that coexpress the itch signaling pathway components transient receptor potential subtype V1 and gastrin-releasing peptide. Notably, we found that treatment with a TLR3 agonist induces inward currents and action potentials in DRG neurons and elicited scratching in WT mice but not Tlr3–/– mice. Furthermore, excitatory synaptic transmission in spinal cord slices and long-term potentiation in the intact spinal cord were impaired in Tlr3–/– mice but not Tlr7–/– mice. Consequently, central sensitization–driven pain hypersensitivity, but not acute pain, was impaired in Tlr3–/– mice. In addition, TLR3 knockdown in DRGs also attenuated pruritus in WT mice. Finally, chronic itch in a dry skin condition was substantially reduced in Tlr3–/– mice. Our findings demonstrate a critical role of TLR3 in regulating sensory neuronal excitability, spinal cord synaptic transmission, and central sensitization. TLR3 may serve as a new target for developing anti-itch treatment.
doi:10.1172/JCI45414
PMCID: PMC3366391  PMID: 22565312
5.  Resolvin D2 is a potent endogenous inhibitor for transient receptor potential subtype V1/A1, inflammatory pain, and spinal cord synaptic plasticity in mice: Distinct roles of Resolvin D1, D2, and E1 
Inflammatory pain such as arthritic pain is typically treated with opioids and COX-2 inhibitors with well-known side effects. Transient receptor potential subtype V1 (TRPV1) and A1 (TRPA1) contribute importantly to the genesis of inflammatory pain via both peripheral mechanisms (peripheral sensitization) and spinal cord mechanisms (central sensitization). Although these TRP channels have been intensively studied, little is known about their endogenous inhibitors. Recent studies have demonstrated that the endogenous lipid mediators resolvins (RvE1 and RvD1), derived from omega-3 unsaturated fatty acids, are potent inhibitors for inflammatory pain, without noticeable side effects. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying resolvins’ distinct analgesic actions in mice are unclear. Resolvin D2 (RvD2) is a novel family member of resolvins. Here we report that RvD2 is a remarkably potent inhibitor of TRPV1 (IC50=0.1 nM) and TRPA1 (IC50= 2 nM) in primary sensory neurons, whereas RvE1 and RvD1 selectively inhibited TRPV1 (IC50=1 nM) and TRPA1 (IC50=9 nM), respectively. Accordingly, RvD2, RvE1, and RvD1 differentially regulated TRPV1 and TRPA1 agonist-elicited acute pain and spinal cord synaptic plasticity (sEPSC frequency increase). RvD2 also abolished inflammation-induced sEPSC increases (frequency and amplitude), without affecting basal synaptic transmission. Intrathecal administration of RvD2 at very low doses (0.01-1 ng) prevented formalin-induced spontaneous pain. Intrathecal RvD2 also reversed adjuvant-induced inflammatory pain without altering baseline pain and motor function. Finally, intrathecal RvD2 reversed C-fiber stimulation-evoked long-term potentiation in the spinal cord. Our findings suggest distinct roles of resolvins in regulating TRP channels and identify RvD2 as a potent endogenous inhibitor for TRPV1/A1 and inflammatory pain.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4192-11.2011
PMCID: PMC3242808  PMID: 22171045
docosahexaenoic acid (DHA); eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA); long-term potentiation; omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid; primary sensory neurons; spontaneous EPSCs
6.  Suppression of inflammatory and neuropathic pain by uncoupling CRMP-2 from the presynaptic Ca2+ channel complex 
Nature medicine  2011;17(7):822-829.
Chronic pain hypersensitivity depends on N-type voltage-gated calcium channels (CaV2.2). However, the use of CaV2.2 blockers in pain therapeutics is limited by side effects that result from inhibited physiological functions of these channels. Here we report suppression of both inflammatory and neuropathic hypersensitivity by inhibiting the binding of the axonal collapsin response mediator protein 2 (CRMP-2) to CaV2.2, thus reducing channel function. A 15-amino acid peptide of CRMP-2 fused to the transduction domain of HIV TAT protein (TAT-CBD3) decreases neurotransmitter release from nociceptive dorsal root ganglion neurons, reduces meningeal blood flow, reduces nocifensive behavior induced by subcutaneous formalin injection or following corneal capsaicin application, and reverses neuropathic hypersensitivity produced by the antiretroviral drug 2’,3’-dideoxycytidine. TAT-CBD3 was mildly anxiolytic but innocuous on sensorimotor and cognitive functions and despair. By preventing CRMP-2-mediated enhancement of CaV2.2 function, TAT-CBD3 alleviates inflammatory and neuropathic hypersensitivity, an approach that may prove useful in managing clinical pain.
doi:10.1038/nm.2345
PMCID: PMC3219927  PMID: 21642979
7.  Resolving TRPV1 and TNF-α Mediated Spinal Cord Synaptic Plasticity and Inflammatory Pain with Neuroprotectin D1 
Mechanisms of inflammatory pain are not fully understood. We investigated the role of TRPV1 and TNF-α, two critical mediators for inflammatory pain, in regulating spinal cord synaptic transmission. We found in mice lacking Trpv1 the frequency but not the amplitude of spontaneous EPSCs (sEPSCs) in lamina II neurons of spinal cord slices is reduced. Further, C-fiber-induced spinal long-term potentiation (LTP) in vivo is abolished in Trpv1 knockout mice. TNF-α also increases sEPSC frequency but not amplitude in spinal lamina IIo neurons, and this increase is abolished in Trpv1 knockout mice. Single-cell PCR analysis revealed that TNF-α-responding neurons in lamina IIo are exclusively excitatory (vGluT2+) neurons. Notably, neuroprotectin-1 (NPD1), an anti-inflammatory lipid mediator derived from omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (docosahexaenoic acid) blocks TNF-α- and capsaicin-evoked sEPSC frequency increases but has no effect on basal synaptic transmission. Strikingly, NPD1 potently inhibits capsaicin-induced TRPV1 current (IC50=0.4 nM) in dissociated dorsal root ganglion neurons, and this IC50 is ≈ 500 times lower than that of AMG9810, a commonly used TRPV1 antagonist. NPD1 inhibition of TRPV1 is mediated by GPCRs, since the effects were blocked by pertussis toxin. In contrast, NPD1 had not effect on mustard oil-induced TRPA1 currents. Spinal injection of NPD1, at very low doses (0.1–10 ng), blocks spinal LTP and reduces TRPV1-dependent inflammatory pain, without affecting baseline pain. NPD1 also reduces TRPV1-independent but TNF-α-dependent pain hypersensitivity. Our findings demonstrate a novel role of NPD1 in regulating TRPV1/TNF-α-mediated spinal synaptic plasticity and identify NPD1 as a novel analgesic for treating inflammatory pain.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2443-11.2011
PMCID: PMC3202339  PMID: 22016541
central sensitization; docosahexaenoic acid; long-term potentiation; omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid; primary sensory neurons; single-cell PCR; spontaneous EPSCs; TRPA1
8.  Toll-like Receptor-7 Mediates Pruritus 
Nature neuroscience  2010;13(12):1460-1462.
Toll-like receptors (TLRs) are typically expressed in immune cells to regulate innate immunity. Here we report that functional TLR7 is expressed in C-fiber primary sensory neurons and important for inducing itch (pruritis) but not necessary for eliciting mechanical, thermal, inflammatory and neuropathic pain in mice. Thus, we have uncovered TLR7 as a novel itch mediator and a potential therapeutic target for anti-itch treatment in skin disease conditions.
doi:10.1038/nn.2683
PMCID: PMC2991508  PMID: 21037581
9.  Molecular Basis of Cav2.3 Calcium Channels in Rat Nociceptive Neurons* 
The Journal of biological chemistry  2006;282(7):4757-4764.
Cav2.3 calcium channels play an important role in pain transmission in peripheral sensory neurons. Six Cav2.3 isoforms resulting from different combinations of three inserts (inserts I and II in the II–III loop and insert III in the carboxyl-terminal region) have been identified in different mammalian tissues. To date, however, Cav2.3 isoforms unique to primary sensory neurons have not been identified. In this study, we determined Cav2.3 isoforms expressed in the rat trigeminal ganglion neurons. Whole tissue reverse transcription (RT)-PCR analyses revealed that only two isoforms, Cav2.3a and Cav2.3e, are present in TG neurons. Using single cell RT-PCR, we found that Cav2.3e is the major isoform, whereas Cav2.3e expression is highly restricted to small (<16 μm) isolectin B4-negative and tyrosine kinase A-positive neurons. Cav2.3e was also preferentially detected in neurons expressing the nociceptive marker, transient receptor potential vanilloid 1. Single cell RT-PCR following calcium imaging and whole-cell patch clamp recordings provided evidence of an association between an R-type calcium channel component and Cav2.3e expression. Our results suggest that Cav2.3e in sensory neurons may be a potential target for the treatment of pain.
doi:10.1074/jbc.M605248200
PMCID: PMC2760738  PMID: 17145762
10.  Direct activation of Transient Receptor Potential Vanilloid 1(TRPV1) by Diacylglycerol (DAG) 
Molecular Pain  2008;4:42.
The capsaicin receptor, known as transient receptor potential channel vanilloid subtype 1 (TRPV1), is activated by a wide range of noxious stimulants and putative ligands such as capsaicin, heat, pH, anandamide, and phosphorylation by protein kinase C (PKC). However, the identity of endogenous activators for TRPV1 under physiological condition is still debated. Here, we report that diacylglycerol (DAG) directly activates TRPV1 channel in a membrane-delimited manner in rat dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons. 1-oleoyl-2-acetyl-sn-glycerol (OAG), a membrane-permeable DAG analog, elicited intracellular Ca2+ transients, cationic currents and cobalt uptake that were blocked by TRPV1-selective antagonists, but not by inhibitors of PKC and DAG lipase in rat DRG neurons or HEK 293 cells heterologously expressing TRPV1. OAG induced responses were about one fifth of capsaicin induced signals, suggesting that OAG displays partial agonism. We also found that endogenously produced DAG can activate rat TRPV1 channels. Mutagenesis of rat TRPV1 revealed that DAG-binding site is at Y511, the same site for capsaicin binding, and PtdIns(4,5)P2binding site may not be critical for the activation of rat TRPV1 by DAG in heterologous system. We propose that DAG serves as an endogenous ligand for rat TRPV1, acting as an integrator of Gq/11-coupled receptors and receptor tyrosine kinases that are linked to phospholipase C.
doi:10.1186/1744-8069-4-42
PMCID: PMC2576176  PMID: 18826653
11.  Directed Induction of Functional Motor Neuron-Like Cells from Genetically Engineered Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e35244.
Cell replacement using stem cells is a promising therapeutic approach to treat degenerative motor neuron (MN) disorders, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and spinal cord injury. Human bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) are a desirable cell source for autologous cell replacement therapy to treat nervous system injury due to their plasticity, low immunogenicity, and a lower risk of tumor formation than embryonic stem cells. However, hMSCs are inefficient with regards to differentiating into MN-like cells. To solve this limitation, we genetically engineered hMSCs to express MN-associated transcription factors, Olig2 and Hb9, and then treat the hMSCs expressing Olig2 and Hb9 with optimal MN induction medium (MNIM). This method of induction led to higher expression (>30% of total cells) of MN markers. Electrophysiological data revealed that the induced hMSCs had the excitable properties of neurons and were able to form functional connections with muscle fibers in vitro. Furthermore, when the induced hMSCs were transplanted into an injured organotypic rat spinal cord slice culture, an ex vivo model of spinal cord injury, they exhibited characteristics of MNs. The data strongly suggest that induced Olig2/Hb9-expressing hMSCs were clearly reprogrammed and directed toward a MN-like lineage. We propose that methods to induce Olig2 and Hb9, followed by further induction with MNIM have therapeutic potential for autologous cell replacement therapy to treat degenerative MN disorders.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0035244
PMCID: PMC3320649  PMID: 22496912

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