Neural pathways in medial septal cholinergic modulation of chronic pain: distinct contribution of the anterior cingulate cortex and ventral hippocampus

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One specific behavior can be synergistically modulated by different neural pathways. Medial septal (MS) cholinergic system innervates widespread cortical and subcortical regions and participates in pain modulation, but the underlying neural pathways are not fully understood. This study examined the contribution of MS cholinergic neurons and 2 neural pathways: MS–rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) and MS–ventral hippocampal CA1 (vCA1), in modulating perceptual and affective pain behaviors in a mouse model of chronic inflammatory pain. We found that chronic pain activated MS cholinergic neurons and pyramidal neurons in the rACC, but suppressed pyramidal neuronal activities in the vCA1, all of which contributed to the maintenance of pathological pain. Chemogenetic inhibition of MS cholinergic neurons or the MS–rACC pathway inhibited rACC pyramidal neuronal activities and attenuated perceptual and affective dimensions of chronic pain. By contrast, chemogenetic activation of MS cholinergic neurons also produced analgesia, but by rescuing hypofunctional pyramidal neurons in vCA1. These results clearly demonstrate that the MS cholinergic system differentially modulates chronic inflammatory pain through MS–rACC or MS–vCA1 pathways. More significantly, our research provides evidence for a novel paradigm of neural circuit modulation: MS cholinergic inhibition and activation induce similar analgesia but through distinct neural pathways.

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