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Erasure of a Spinal Memory Trace of Pain by a Brief, High-Dose Opioid Administration

Science  13 Jan 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6065, pp. 235-238
DOI: 10.1126/science.1211726

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Abstract

Painful stimuli activate nociceptive C fibers and induce synaptic long-term potentiation (LTP) at their spinal terminals. LTP at C-fiber synapses represents a cellular model for pain amplification (hyperalgesia) and for a memory trace of pain. μ-Opioid receptor agonists exert a powerful but reversible depression at C-fiber synapses that renders the continuous application of low opioid doses the gold standard in pain therapy. We discovered that brief application of a high opioid dose reversed various forms of activity-dependent LTP at C-fiber synapses. Depotentiation involved Ca2+-dependent signaling and normalization of the phosphorylation state of α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid receptors. This also reversed hyperalgesia in behaving animals. Opioids thus not only temporarily dampen pain but may also erase a spinal memory trace of pain.

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