Corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF)-CRF1 receptor in the brain plays a key role in stress-related alterations of behavior including anxiety/depression, and autonomic and visceral functions. In particular, CRF1 signaling mediates hypersensitivity to colorectal distension (CRD) in various models (early life adverse events, repeated psychological stress, chronic high anxiety, postcolonic inflammation, or repeated nociceptive CRD). So far, knowledge of brain sites involved is limited. A recent article demonstrates in rats that CRF microinjected into the central amygdala (CeA) induces a hyperalgesic response to CRD and enhances the noradrenaline and dopamine levels at this site. The visceral and noradrenaline, unlike dopamine, responses were blocked by a CRF1 antagonist injected into the CeA. Here, we review the emerging role that CRF-CRF1 signaling plays in the CeA to induce visceral hypersensitivity. In the somatic pain field, CRF in the CeA was shown to induce pain sensitization. This is mediated by the activation of postsynaptic CRF1 receptors and protein kinase A signaling that increases N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor neurotransmission. In addition, the activation of tetraethylamonium-sensitive ion channels such as Kv3 accelerates repolarization and firing rate. Whether facilitation of pain transmission underlies CRF action in the CeA-induced visceral hypersensitivity will need to be delineated. CRF1 signaling in the CeA is also an important component of the neuronal circuitry inducing anxiety-like behavior and positioned at the interphase of the reciprocal relationship between pain and affective state. The hyperactivity of this system may represent the neuroanatomical and biochemical substrate contributing to the coexpression of hypersensitivity to CRD and mood disorders in subsets of irritable bowel syndrome patients.
This review describes the role of CRF-CRF1 receptor signaling in experimental models of visceral hyperalgesia with a focus on brain sites and mechanisms of action in the central amygdala.