The widely used analgesic acetaminophen is metabolized to N-acylphenolamine, which induces analgesia by acting directly on transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 or cannabinoid 1 receptors in the brain. Although these receptors are also abundant in the spinal cord, no previous studies have reported analgesic effects of acetaminophen or N-acylphenolamine mediated by the spinal cord dorsal horn. We hypothesized that clinical doses of acetaminophen induce analgesia via these spinal mechanisms.Methods:
We assessed our hypothesis in a rat model using behavioral measures. We also used in vivo and in vitro whole cell patch-clamp recordings of dorsal horn neurons to assess excitatory synaptic transmission.Results:
Intravenous acetaminophen decreased peripheral pinch-induced excitatory responses in the dorsal horn (53.1 ± 20.7% of control; n = 10; P < 0.01), while direct application of acetaminophen to the dorsal horn did not reduce these responses. Direct application of N-acylphenolamine decreased the amplitudes of monosynaptic excitatory postsynaptic currents evoked by C-fiber stimulation (control, 462.5 ± 197.5 pA; N-acylphenolamine, 272.5 ± 134.5 pA; n = 10; P = 0.022) but not those evoked by stimulation of Aδ-fibers. These phenomena were mediated by transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 receptors, but not cannabinoid 1 receptors. The analgesic effects of acetaminophen and N-acylphenolamine were stronger in rats experiencing an inflammatory pain model compared to naïve rats.Conclusions:
Our results suggest that the acetaminophen metabolite N-acylphenolamine induces analgesia directly via transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 receptors expressed on central terminals of C-fibers in the spinal dorsal horn and leads to conduction block, shunt currents, and desensitization of these fibers.