Chloride dysregulation and inhibitory receptor blockade yield equivalent disinhibition of spinal neurons yet are differentially reversed by carbonic anhydrase blockade

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Synaptic inhibition plays a key role in processing somatosensory information. Blocking inhibition at the spinal level is sufficient to produce mechanical allodynia, and many neuropathic pain conditions are associated with reduced inhibition. Disinhibition of spinal neurons can arise through decreased GABAA/glycine receptor activation or through dysregulation of intracellular chloride. We hypothesized that these distinct disinhibitory mechanisms, despite all causing allodynia, are differentially susceptible to therapeutic intervention. Specifically, we predicted that reducing bicarbonate efflux by blocking carbonic anhydrase with acetazolamide (ACTZ) would counteract disinhibition caused by chloride dysregulation without affecting normal inhibition or disinhibition caused by GABAA/glycine receptor blockade. To test this, responses to innocuous tactile stimulation were recorded in vivo from rat superficial dorsal horn neurons before and after different forms of pharmacological disinhibition and again after application of ACTZ. Blocking GABAA or glycine receptors caused hyperresponsiveness equivalent to that caused by blocking the potassium chloride cotransporter KCC2, but, consistent with our predictions, only disinhibition caused by KCC2 blockade was counteracted by ACTZ. ACTZ did not alter responses of neurons with intact inhibition. As pathological downregulation of KCC2 is triggered by brain-derived neurotrophic factor, we also confirmed that ACTZ was effective against brain-derived neurotrophic factor–induced hyperresponsiveness. Our results argue that intrathecal ACTZ has antiallodynic effects only if allodynia arises through chloride dysregulation; therefore, behavioral evidence that ACTZ is antiallodynic in nerve-injured animals affirms the contribution of chloride dysregulation as a key pathological mechanism. Although different disinhibitory mechanisms are not mutually exclusive, these results demonstrate that their relative contribution dictates which specific therapies will be effective.

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