Kynurenic acid and zaprinast induce analgesia by modulating HCN channels through GPR35 activation

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Hyperpolarization-activated cyclic nucleotide-gated (HCN) channels have a key role in the control of cellular excitability. HCN2, a subgroup of the HCN family channels, are heavily expressed in small dorsal root ganglia (DRG) neurons and their activation seems to be important in the determination of pain intensity. Intracellular elevation of cAMP levels activates HCN-mediated current (Ih) and small DRG neurons excitability. GPR35, a Gi/o coupled receptor, is highly expressed in small DRG neurons, and we hypothesized that its activation, mediated by endogenous or exogenous ligands, could lead to pain control trough a reduction of Ih current. Patch clamp recordings were carried out in primary cultures of rat DRG neurons and the effects of GPR35 activation on Ih current and neuronal excitability were studied in control conditions and after adenylate cyclase activation with either forskolin or prostaglandin E2 (PGE2). We found that both kynurenic acid (KYNA) and zaprinast, the endogenous and synthetic GPR35 agonist respectively, were able to antagonize the forskolin-induced depolarization of resting membrane potential by reducing Ih-mediated depolarization. Similar results were obtained when PGE2 was used to activate adenylate cyclase and to increase Ih current and the overall neuronal excitability. Finally, we tested the analgesic effect of both GPR35 agonists in an in vivo model of PGE2-induced thermal hyperalgesia. In accord with the hypothesis, both KYNA and zaprinast showed a dose dependent analgesic effect. In conclusion, GPR35 activation leads to a reduced excitability of small DRG neurons in vitro and causes a dose-dependent analgesia in vivo. GPR35 agonists, by reducing adenylate cyclase activity and inhibiting Ih in DRG neurons may represent a promising new group of analgesic drugs.

Graphical abstract

Hyperalgesia could be induced through PGE2 receptor activation (1) leading to increased intracellular cAMP formation (2) thus activating HCN2 channels inducing DRG neurons increased excitability (3). GPR35 activation by inhibiting Adenylate Cyclase (AC) activity (4), reduced cAMP intracellular concentration (5) thus restoring HCN2 channel function leading to analgesia (6).

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