Functional and Anatomical Characterization of Corticotropin-Releasing Factor Receptor Subtypes of the Rat Spinal Cord Involved in Somatic Pain Relief



Mousa SA, Shaqura M, Khalefa BI, Li L, Al-Madol M, Treskatsch S, Schäfer M.


Mol Neurobiol. 2021 Jul 31. doi: 10.1007/s12035-021-02481-z. Online ahead of print.


Corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) orchestrates our body’s response to stressful stimuli. Pain is often stressful and counterbalanced by activation of CRF receptors along the nociceptive pathway, although the involvement of the CRF receptor subtypes 1 and/or 2 (CRF-R1 and CRF-R2, respectively) in CRF-induced analgesia remains controversial. Thus, the aim of the present study was to examine CRF-R1 and CRF-R2 expression within the spinal cord of rats with Freund’s complete adjuvant-induced unilateral inflammation of the hind paw using reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction, Western blot, radioligand binding, and immunofluorescence confocal analysis. Moreover, the antinociceptive effects of intrathecal (i.t.) CRF were measured by paw pressure algesiometer and their possible antagonism by selective antagonists for CRF-R1 and/or CRF-R2 as well as for opioid receptors. Our results demonstrated a preference for the expression of CRF-R2 over CRF-R1 mRNA, protein, binding sites and immunoreactivity in the dorsal horn of the rat spinal cord. Consistently, CRF as well as CRF-R2 agonists elicited potent dose-dependent antinociceptive effects which were antagonized by the i.t. CRF-R2 selective antagonist K41498, but not by the CRF-R1 selective antagonist NBI35965. In addition, i.t. applied opioid antagonist naloxone dose-dependently abolished the i.t. CRF- as well as CRF-R2 agonist-elicited inhibition of somatic pain. Importantly, double immunofluorescence confocal microscopy of the spinal dorsal horn showed CRF-R2 on enkephalin (ENK)-containing inhibitory interneurons in close opposition of incoming mu-opioid receptor-immunoreactive nociceptive neurons. CRF-R2 was, however, not seen on pre- or on postsynaptic sensory neurons of the spinal cord. Taken together, these findings suggest that i.t. CRF or CRF-R2 agonists inhibit somatic inflammatory pain predominantly through CRF-R2 receptors located on spinal enkephalinergic inhibitory interneurons which finally results in endogenous opioid-mediated pain inhibition. CI – © 2021. The Author(s).

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Link/DOI: 10.1007/s12035-021-02481-z