We previously showed that intrathecal application of endomorphin 2 [EM2; the highly specific endogenous κ-opioid receptor (MOR) ligand] induces antinociception that varies with stage of the rat estrous cycle: minimal during diestrus and prominent during proestrus. Earlier studies, however, did not identify proestrus-activated signaling strategies that enable spinal EM2 antinociception.Wenow report that in female rats, increased spinal dynorphin release andκ-opioid receptor (KOR) signaling, as well as the emergence of glutamate-activated metabotropic glutamate receptor 1 (mGluR1) signaling, are critical to the transition from an EM2 nonresponsive state (during diestrus) to an analgesically responsive state (during proestrus). Differential signaling bymGluR1, dependingonits activation bymembraneestrogen receptor α (mERα; during diestrus) versus glutamate (during proestrus), concomitant with the ebb and flow of spinal dynorphin/KOR signaling, functions as a switch, preventing or promoting, respectively, spinal EM2 antinociception. Importantly, EM2 and glutamate-containing varicosities appose spinal neurons that express MOR along with mGluRs and mERα, suggesting that signaling mechanisms regulating analgesic effectiveness of intrathecally applied EM2 also pertain to endogenous EM2. Regulation of spinal EM2 antinociception by both the nature of the endogenous mGluR1 activator (i.e., endogenous biased agonism at mGluR1) and changes in spinal dynorphin/KOR signaling represent a novel mechanism for modulating analgesic responsiveness to endogenous EM2 (and perhaps other opioids). This points the way for developing noncanonical pharmacological approaches to pain management by harnessing endogenous opioids for pain relief.Significance Statement The current prescription opioid abuse epidemic underscores the urgency to develop alternative pharmacotherapies for managing pain. We find that the magnitude of spinal endomorphin 2 (EM2) antinociception not only varies with stage of reproductive cycle, but is also differentially regulated during diestrus and proestrus. This finding highlights the need for sex-specific and cycle-specific approaches to painmanagement.Additionally,ourfinding that spinalEM2antinociception in female rats is regulatedbyboththeebbandflow of spinal dynorphin/κ-opioid receptor signaling over the estrous cycle, as well as the nature of the endogenous mGluR1 activator, could encourage noncanonical pharmacological approaches to pain management, such as harnessing endogenous opioids for pain relief.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by National Institute on Drug Abuse Grants DA027663 (N.-J.L. and A.R.G.) and DA043774(N.-J.L.andA.R.G.)andbytheDepartmentofNeuroscience,SchoolofMedicine,UniversityofMinnesota (M.W.W.) and by the University Imaging Centers, University of Minnesota (M.W.W.).
- Biased agonism
- Endomorphin 2
- Estrous cycle
- κ-opioid receptor