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Endocannabinoids at the spinal level regulate, but do not mediate, nonopioid stress-induced analgesia


Recent work in our laboratories has demonstrated that an opioid-independent form of stress-induced analgesia (SIA) is mediated by endogenous cannabinoids [Hohmann et al., 2005. Nature 435, 1108]. Non-opioid SIA, induced by a 3-min continuous foot shock, is characterized by the mobilization of two endocannabinoid lipids--2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) and anandamide--in the midbrain periaqueductal gray (PAG). The present studies were conducted to examine the contributions of spinal endocannabinoids to nonopioid SIA. Time-dependent increases in levels of 2-AG, but not anandamide, were observed in lumbar spinal cord extracts derived from shocked relative to non-shocked rats. Notably, 2-AG accumulation was of smaller magnitude than that observed previously in the dorsal midbrain following foot shock. 2-AG is preferentially degraded by monoacylglycerol lipase (MGL), whereas anandamide is hydrolyzed primarily by fatty-acid amide hydrolase (FAAH). This metabolic segregation enabled us to manipulate endocannabinoid tone at the spinal level to further evaluate the roles of 2-AG and anandamide in nonopioid SIA. Intrathecal administration of the competitive CB1 antagonist SR141716A (rimonabant) failed to suppress nonopioid SIA, suggesting that supraspinal rather than spinal CB1 receptor activation plays a pivotal role in endocannabinoid-mediated SIA. By contrast, spinal inhibition of MGL using URB602, which selectively inhibits 2-AG hydrolysis in the PAG, enhanced SIA through a CB1-selective mechanism. Spinal inhibition of FAAH, with either URB597 or arachidonoyl serotonin (AA-5-HT), also enhanced SIA through a CB1-mediated mechanism, presumably by increasing accumulation of tonically released anandamide. Our results suggest that endocannabinoids in the spinal cord regulate, but do not mediate, nonopioid SIA.

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