Median nerve stimulation induces analgesia via orexin-initiated endocannabinoid disinhibition in the periaqueductal gray

Adequate pain management remains an unmet medical need. We previously revealed an opioid-independent analgesic mechanism mediated by orexin 1 receptor (OX1R)-initiated 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) signaling in the ventrolateral periaqueductal gray (vlPAG). Here, we found that low-frequency median nerve stimulation (MNS) through acupuncture needles at the PC6 (Neiguan) acupoint (MNS-PC6) induced an antinociceptive effect that engaged this mechanism. In mice, MNS-PC6 reduced acute thermal nociceptive responses and neuropathy-induced mechanical allodynia, increased the number of c-Fos–immunoreactive hypothalamic orexin neurons, and led to higher orexin A and lower GABA levels in the vlPAG. Such responses were not seen in mice with PC6 needle insertion only or electrical stimulation of the lateral deltoid, a nonmedian nerve-innervated location. Directly stimulating the surgically exposed median nerve also increased vlPAG orexin A levels. MNS-PC6–induced antinociception (MNS-PC6-IA) was prevented by proximal block of the median nerve with lidocaine as well as by systemic or intravlPAG injection of an antagonist of OX1Rs or cannabinoid 1 receptors (CB1Rs) but not by opioid receptor antagonists. Systemic blockade of OX1Rs or CB1Rs also restored vlPAG GABA levels after MNS-PC6. A cannabinoid (2-AG)-dependent mechanism was also implicated by the observations that MNS-PC6-IA was prevented by intravlPAG inhibition of 2-AG synthesis and was attenuated in Cnr1$^{−/−}$ mice. These findings suggest that PC6-targeting low-frequency MNS activates hypothalamic orexin neurons, releasing orexins to induce analgesia through a CB1R-dependent cascade mediated by OX1R-initiated 2-AG retrograde disinhibition in the vlPAG. The opioid-independent characteristic of MNS-PC6–induced analgesia may provide a strategy for pain management in opioid-tolerant patients.

Publication Date:
Oct 22 2018
Date Submitted:
Jun 28 2019
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
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 Record created 2019-06-28, last modified 2019-07-24

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