Anterior nucleus of paraventricular thalamus mediates chronic mechanical hyperalgesia

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Pain-related diseases are the top leading causes of life disability. Identifying brain regions involved in persistent neuronal changes will provide new insights for developing efficient chronic pain treatment. Here, we showed that anterior nucleus of paraventricular thalamus (PVA) plays an essential role in the development of mechanical hyperalgesia in neuropathic and inflammatory pain models in mice. Increase in c-Fos, phosphorylated extracellular signal–regulated kinase, and hyperexcitability of PVA neurons were detected in hyperalgesic mice. Direct activation of PVA neurons using optogenetics and pharmacological approaches were sufficient to induce persistent mechanical hyperalgesia in naive animals. Conversely, inhibition of PVA neuronal activity using DREADDs (designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs) or inactivation of PVA extracellular signal–regulated kinase at the critical time window blunted mechanical hyperalgesia in chronic pain models. At the circuitry level, PVA received innervation from central nucleus of amygdala, a known pain-associated locus. As a result, activation of right central nucleus of amygdala with blue light was enough to induce persistent mechanical hyperalgesia. These findings support the idea that targeting PVA can be a potential therapeutic strategy for pain relief.

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