How Gastrin-Releasing Peptide Opens the Spinal Gate for Itch.
ABSTRACT: Spinal transmission of pruritoceptive (itch) signals requires transneuronal signaling by gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) produced by a subpopulation of dorsal horn excitatory interneurons. These neurons also express the glutamatergic marker vGluT2, raising the question of why glutamate alone is insufficient for spinal itch relay. Using optogenetics together with slice electrophysiology and mouse behavior, we demonstrate that baseline synaptic coupling between GRP and GRP receptor (GRPR) neurons is too weak for suprathreshold excitation. Only when we mimicked the endogenous firing of GRP neurons and stimulated them repetitively to fire bursts of action potentials did GRPR neurons depolarize progressively and become excitable by GRP neurons. GRPR but not glutamate receptor antagonism prevented this action. Provoking itch-like behavior by optogenetic activation of spinal GRP neurons required similar stimulation paradigms. These results establish a spinal gating mechanism for itch that requires sustained repetitive activity of presynaptic GRP neurons and postsynaptic GRP signaling to drive GRPR neuron output.
Project description:Gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) receptor-expressing (GRPR)<sup>+</sup> neurons have a central role in the spinal transmission of itch. Because their fundamental regulatory mechanisms are not yet understood, it is important to determine how such neurons are excited and integrate itch sensation. In this study, we investigated the mechanisms for the activation of itch-responsive GRPR<sup>+</sup> neurons in the spinal dorsal horn (SDH). GRPR<sup>+</sup> neurons expressed the α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid receptor (AMPAR) containing the GluR2 subunit. In mice, peripherally elicited histaminergic and non-histaminergic itch was prevented by intrathecal (i.t.) administration of the AMPAR antagonist NBQX, which was consistent with the fact that firing of GRPR<sup>+</sup> neurons in SDH under histaminergic and non-histaminergic itch was completely blocked by NBQX, but not by the GRPR antagonist RC-3095. Because GRP<sup>+</sup> neurons in SDH contain glutamate, we investigated the role of GRP<sup>+</sup> (GRP<sup>+</sup>/Glu<sup>+</sup>) neurons in regulating itch. Chemogenetic inhibition of GRP<sup>+</sup> neurons suppressed both histaminergic and non-histaminergic itch without affecting the mechanical pain threshold. In nonhuman primates, i.t. administration of NBQX also attenuated peripherally elicited itch without affecting the thermal pain threshold. In a mouse model of diphenylcyclopropenone (DCP)-induced contact dermatitis, GRP, GRPR, and AMPAR subunits were upregulated in SDH. DCP-induced itch was prevented by either silencing GRP<sup>+</sup> neurons or ablation of GRPR<sup>+</sup> neurons. Altogether, these findings demonstrate that GRP and glutamate cooperatively regulate GRPR<sup>+</sup> AMPAR<sup>+</sup> neurons in SDH, mediating itch sensation. GRP-GRPR and the glutamate-AMPAR system may play pivotal roles in the spinal transmission of itch in rodents and nonhuman primates.
Project description:There are sex differences in somatosensory sensitivity. Circulating estrogens appear to have a pronociceptive effect that explains why females are reported to be more sensitive to pain than males. Although itch symptoms develop during pregnancy in many women, the underlying mechanism of female-specific pruritus is unknown. Here, we demonstrate that estradiol, but not progesterone, enhances histamine-evoked scratching behavior indicative of itch in female rats. Estradiol increased the expression of the spinal itch mediator, gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP), and increased the histamine-evoked activity of itch-processing neurons that express the GRP receptor (GRPR) in the spinal dorsal horn. The enhancement of itch behavior by estradiol was suppressed by intrathecal administration of a GRPR blocker. In vivo electrophysiological analysis showed that estradiol increased the histamine-evoked firing frequency and prolonged the response of spinal GRP-sensitive neurons in female rats. On the other hand, estradiol did not affect the threshold of noxious thermal pain and decreased touch sensitivity, indicating that estradiol separately affects itch, pain, and touch modalities. Thus, estrogens selectively enhance histamine-evoked itch in females via the spinal GRP/GRPR system. This may explain why itch sensation varies with estrogen levels and provides a basis for treating itch in females by targeting GRPR.
Project description:Itch and pain are both unpleasant, but they are discrete sensations. Both of these sensations are transmitted by C-fibers and processed in laminae I-II of the dorsal horn. To examine whether pruriception modulates pain, we first confirmed the activation of cells in the itch-related circuits that were positive for gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) and GRP receptor (GRPR) using a paw formalin injection model. This pain model with typical biphasic pain behavior increased c-Fos but did not affect the expressions of <i>GRP</i> and <i>GRPR</i> mRNAs in the dorsal horn. Using c-Fos expression as a marker for activated cells, we confirmed that formalin injection increased the number of cells double-labeled for c-Fos and GRP or GRPR in the dorsal horn. The emergence of these neurons indicates the activation of itch-related circuits by acute pain signals. The effect of an antagonist for a GRPR was examined in the paw formalin injection model. Intrathecal chronic antagonization of spinal GRPR enhanced the onset of phase II of paw formalin injection-induced pain behavior. Exogenous intrathecal GRP infusion to the paw-formalin injection model not only showed significant reduction of pain behavior but also increased c-Fos in the inhibitory neurons in the dorsal horn. The anti-nociceptive effect of spinal GRP infusion was observed in the peripheral inflammation model (complete Freund's adjuvant injection model). In this study we suggest that painful stimuli activated itch-related neuronal circuits and uncovered the spinal activation of the itch-induced analgesic effect on acute and established inflammatory pain.
Project description:<b>Aim: </b>Ample evidence indicates that gastrin-releasing peptide receptor (GRPR)-expressing neurons play a critical role in the transmission of acute itch. However, the pathophysiology of spinal mechanisms underlying intractable itch such as psoriasis remains unclear. In this study, we aimed to determine whether itch-responsive GRPR<sup>+</sup> neurons contribute to the spinal transmission of imiquimod (IMQ)-induced psoriatic itch.<br><br><b>Methods: </b>To generate a psoriasis model, C57BL/6J mice received a daily topical application of 5% IMQ cream on their shaved back skin for 7-10 consecutive days. GRP<sup>+</sup> neurons were inhibited using Cre-dependent expression of Gi-designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs (DREADDs), while GRPR<sup>+</sup> neurons were ablated by intrathecal administration of bombesin-saporin.<br><br><b>Results: </b>Repeated topical application of IMQ elicited psoriasis-like dermatitis and scratching behaviors. The mRNA expression levels of GRP and GRPR were upregulated in the cervical spinal dorsal horn (SDH) on days 7 and 10 after IMQ application. Either chemogenetic silencing of GRP<sup>+</sup> neurons by Gi-DREADD or ablation of GRPR<sup>+</sup> neurons significantly attenuated IMQ-induced scratching behaviors.<br><br><b>Conclusion: </b>The GRP-GRPR system might be enhanced in the SDH, and itch-responsive GRPR<sup>+</sup> neurons largely contribute to intractable itch in a mouse model of psoriasis.
Project description:Dorsal horn gastrin-releasing peptide receptor (GRPR) neurons have a central role in itch transmission. Itch signaling has been suggested to be controlled by an inhibitory network in the spinal dorsal horn, as increased scratching behavior can be induced by pharmacological disinhibition or ablation of inhibitory interneurons, but the direct influence of the inhibitory tone on the GRPR neurons in the itch pathway have not been explored. Here we have investigated spinal GRPR neurons through in vitro and bioinformatical analysis. Electrophysiological recordings revealed that GRPR neurons receive local spontaneous excitatory inputs transmitted by glutamate and inhibitory inputs by glycine and GABA, which were transmitted either by separate glycinergic and GABAergic synapses or by glycine and GABA co-releasing synapses. Additionally, all GRPR neurons received both glycine- and GABA-induced tonic currents. The findings show a complex inhibitory network, composed of synaptic and tonic currents that gates the excitability of GRPR neurons, which provides direct evidence for the existence of an inhibitory tone controlling spontaneous discharge in an itch-related neuronal network in the spinal cord. Finally, calcium imaging revealed increased levels of neuronal activity in Grpr-Cre neurons upon application of somatostatin, which provides direct in vitro evidence for disinhibition of these dorsal horn interneurons.
Project description:A key question in our understanding of itch coding mechanisms is whether itch is relayed by dedicated molecular and neuronal pathways. Previous studies suggested that gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) is an itch-specific neurotransmitter. Neuromedin B (NMB) is a mammalian member of the bombesin family of peptides closely related to GRP, but its role in itch is unclear. Here, we show that itch deficits in mice lacking NMB or GRP are non-redundant and Nmb/Grp double KO (DKO) mice displayed additive deficits. Furthermore, both Nmb/Grp and Nmbr/Grpr DKO mice responded normally to a wide array of noxious stimuli. Ablation of NMBR neurons partially attenuated peripherally induced itch without compromising nociceptive processing. Importantly, electrophysiological studies suggested that GRPR neurons receive glutamatergic input from NMBR neurons. Thus, we propose that NMB and GRP may transmit discrete itch information and NMBR neurons are an integral part of neural circuits for itch in the spinal cord.
Project description:There are substantial disagreements about the expression of gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) in sensory neurons and whether GRP antibody cross-reacts with substance P (SP). These concerns necessitate a critical revaluation of GRP expression using additional approaches. Here, we show that a widely used GRP antibody specifically recognizes GRP but not SP. In the spinal cord of mice lacking SP (Tac1KO), the expression of not only GRP but also other peptides, notably neuropeptide Y (NPY), is significantly diminished. We detectedGrpmRNA in dorsal root ganglias using reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction, in situ hybridization and RNA-seq. We demonstrated thatGrpmRNA and protein are upregulated in dorsal root ganglias, but not in the spinal cord, of mice with chronic itch. Few GRP(+)immunostaining signals were detected in spinal sections following dorsal rhizotomy and GRP(+)cell bodies were not detected in dissociated dorsal horn neurons. Ultrastructural analysis further shows that substantially more GRPergic fibers form synaptic contacts with gastrin releasing peptide receptor-positive (GRPR(+)) neurons than SPergic fibers. Our comprehensive study demonstrates that a majority of GRPergic fibers are of primary afferent origin. A number of factors such as low copy number ofGrptranscripts, small percentage of cells expressingGrp, and the use of an eGFP GENSAT transgenic as a surrogate for GRP protein have contributed to the controversy. Optimization of experimental procedures facilitates the specific detection of GRP expression in dorsal root ganglia neurons.
Project description:Itch is a sensation that promotes the desire to scratch, which can be evoked by mechanical and chemical stimuli. In the spinal cord, neurons expressing the gastrin-releasing peptide receptor (GRPR) have been identified as specific mediators of itch. However, our understanding of the GRPR population in the spinal cord, and thus how these neurons exercise their functions, is limited. For this purpose, we constructed a Cre line designed to target the GRPR population of neurons (Grpr-Cre). Our analysis revealed that Grpr-Cre cells in the spinal cord are predominantly excitatory interneurons that are found in the dorsal lamina, especially in laminae II-IV. Application of the specific agonist gastrin-releasing peptide induced spike responses in 43.3% of the patched Grpr-Cre neurons, where the majority of the cells displayed a tonic firing property. Additionally, our analysis showed that the Grpr-Cre population expresses Vglut2 mRNA, and mice ablated of Vglut2 in Grpr-Cre cells (Vglut2-lox;Grpr-Cre mice) displayed less spontaneous itch and attenuated responses to both histaminergic and nonhistaminergic agents. We could also show that application of the itch-inducing peptide, natriuretic polypeptide B, induces calcium influx in a subpopulation of Grpr-Cre neurons. To summarize, our data indicate that the Grpr-Cre spinal cord neural population is composed of interneurons that use VGLUT2-mediated signaling for transmitting chemical and spontaneous itch stimuli to the next, currently unknown, neurons in the labeled line of itch.
Project description:Gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) functions as a neurotransmitter for non-histaminergic itch, but its site of action (sensory neurons vs spinal cord) remains controversial. To determine the role of GRP in sensory neurons, we generated a floxed Grp mouse line. We found that conditional knockout of Grp in sensory neurons results in attenuated non-histaminergic itch, without impairing histamine-induced itch. Using a Grp-Cre knock-in mouse line, we show that the upper epidermis of the skin is exclusively innervated by GRP fibers, whose activation via optogeneics and chemogenetics in the skin evokes itch- but not pain-related scratching or wiping behaviors. In contrast, intersectional genetic ablation of spinal Grp neurons does not affect itch nor pain transmission, demonstrating that spinal Grp neurons are dispensable for itch transmission. These data indicate that GRP is a neuropeptide in sensory neurons for non-histaminergic itch, and GRP sensory neurons are dedicated to itch transmission.
Project description:Gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) is a spinal itch transmitter expressed by a small population of dorsal horn interneurons (GRP neurons). The contribution of these neurons to spinal itch relay is still only incompletely understood, and their potential contribution to pain-related behaviors remains controversial. Here, we have addressed this question in a series of experiments performed in GRP::cre and GRP::eGFP transgenic male mice. We combined behavioral tests with neuronal circuit tracing, morphology, chemogenetics, optogenetics, and electrophysiology to obtain a more comprehensive picture. We found that GRP neurons form a rather homogeneous population of central cell-like excitatory neurons located in lamina II of the superficial dorsal horn. Multicolor high-resolution confocal microscopy and optogenetic experiments demonstrated that GRP neurons receive direct input from MrgprA3-positive pruritoceptors. Anterograde HSV-based neuronal tracing initiated from GRP neurons revealed ascending polysynaptic projections to distinct areas and nuclei in the brainstem, midbrain, thalamus, and the somatosensory cortex. Spinally restricted ablation of GRP neurons reduced itch-related behaviors to different pruritogens, whereas their chemogenetic excitation elicited itch-like behaviors and facilitated responses to several pruritogens. By contrast, responses to painful stimuli remained unaltered. These data confirm a critical role of dorsal horn GRP neurons in spinal itch transmission but do not support a role in pain.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Dorsal horn gastrin-releasing peptide neurons serve a well-established function in the spinal transmission of pruritic (itch) signals. A potential role in the transmission of nociceptive (pain) signals has remained controversial. Our results provide further support for a critical role of dorsal horn gastrin-releasing peptide neurons in itch circuits, but we failed to find evidence supporting a role in pain.