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Functional Reorganization of Local Circuit Connectivity in Superficial Spinal Dorsal Horn with Neuropathic Pain States.


The spinal dorsal horn is the first relay structure coding for pain transmission and modulation. Previous anatomical and electrophysiological studies have examined spinal dorsal horn circuit connections and network activity. Further work is required to understand spinal cord sensory information processing that underlies pathological neuropathic pain states. Our previous studies suggest that peripheral nerve injury enhances presynaptic excitatory input onto spinal superficial dorsal horn neurons, which in turn contributes to pathologic nociception. The potential changes in local postsynaptic circuits in the dorsal horn that lead to pathologically heightened behavioral responses to pain remain largely unexplored. We combined whole-cell electrophysiological recordings with laser-scanning photostimulation to test whether peripheral nerve injury in the spinal nerve ligation (SNL) mouse model of neuropathic pain leads to alterations in the functional connectivity of spinal cord circuits including lamina II excitatory interneurons. Here we show that SNL enhances excitation and decreases inhibition to lamina II excitatory interneurons along with their increased glutamate-evoked excitability. The enhanced excitatory postsynaptic input and connectivity evoked by SNL eventually return to normal levels concurrently with the resolution of the neuropathic pain states. The physiological pattern highly correlates with mouse pain behaviors following SNL, supporting a neurophysiological mechanism of central sensitization and neuropathic pain that is functionally localized to the spinal dorsal horn. Together, these data support that SNL induces functional changes in synaptic input and connectivity to lamina II excitatory interneurons that code for pain perception, and thus provide new insights into the mechanism and locus of pain hypersensitivity.

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