Oxytocin and electrical stimulation of the paraventricular hypothalamic nucleus produce antinociceptive effects that are reversed by an oxytocin antagonist

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In recent years, oxytocin has been implicated in a wide diversity of functions. The role of oxytocin in analgesia and pain modulation represents an important new function of an endogenous system controlling sensorial information. The paraventricular (PV) nucleus of the hypothalamus is one of the most important sources of oxytocin, and it has a very well-defined projection to the spinal cord. The location of this PV spinal cord projection correlates well with oxytocin binding sites at the dorsal horn of the spinal cord. In this work, we used rats with a chronic (46 days) sciatic loose ligature, an electrical stimulating electrode, and an intrathecal cannula, which reached the L4–L5 levels of the spinal cord. We compared the oxytocin effects with electrical stimulation of the PV and observed a significant reduction of the withdrawal responses to mechanical and cold stimulation applied to the ipsilateral and contralateral hind paws. An oxytocin antagonist administered intrathecally blocked the PV effects. Naloxone was also intrathecally injected 2 min before the PV stimulation, and we also observed a significant reduction of the withdrawal responses; however, this reduction was less pronounced. Our results support the hypothesis that oxytocin is part of the descending inhibitory control mechanisms having an important antinociceptive action. We cannot exclude a minor opiate participation in the OT action.

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