Optogenetic methods that utilize expression of the light-sensitive protein channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2) in neurons have enabled selective activation of specific subtypes or groups of neurons to determine their functions. Using a transgenic mouse model in which neurons natively expressing Nav1.8 (a tetrodotoxin-resistant voltage-gated sodium channel) also express the light-gated channel ChR2, we have been able to determine the functional properties of Nav1.8-expressing cutaneous nociceptors of the glabrous skin in vivo. Most (44 of 53) of the C-fiber nociceptors isolated from Nav1.8-ChR2+ mice were found to be responsive to blue (470 nm) light. Response characteristics, including conduction velocity and responses to mechanical stimuli, were comparable between nociceptors isolated from Nav1.8-ChR2+ and control mice. Interestingly, while none of the non–light-responsive C-fibers were sensitive to heat or cold, nearly all (77%) lightsensitive fibers were excited by mechanical and thermal stimuli, suggesting that Nav1.8 is predominantly expressed by C-fiber nociceptors that are responsive to multiple stimulus modalities. The ability to activate peripheral nociceptors with light provides a method of stimulation that is noninvasive, does not require mechanical interruption of the skin, and accesses receptive fields that might be difficult or impossible to stimulate with standard stimuli while allowing repeated stimulation without injuring the skin.
- Peripheral neuron
- Tibial nerve