November 30, 2020

Optogenetic activation of spinal microglia triggers chronic pain in mice

Spinal microglia are highly responsive to peripheral nerve injury and are known to be a key player in neuropathic pain. However, there has not been any direct evidence showing selective microglial activation in vivo is sufficient to induce chronic pain. Here we used optogenetic approaches in microglia to address this question employing CX3CR1creER/+: R26LSL-ReaChR/+ transgenic mice, in which red-activated channelrhodopsin (ReaChR) is inducibly and specifically expressed in microglia. We found that activation of ReaChR by red light in spinal microglia evoked reliable inward currents and membrane depolarization. In vivo optogenetic activation of microglial ReaChR in the spinal cord triggered chronic pain hypersensitivity lasting for 5-7 days. In addition, activation of microglial ReaChR upregulated neuronal c-fos expression and enhanced C-fiber responses. Mechanistically, ReaChR activation led to a reactive microglial phenotype with increased IL-1{beta} production. IL-1 receptor antagonist was able to reverse the pain hypersensitivity and neuronal hyperactivity induced by microglial ReaChR activation. Therefore, our work demonstrates that optogenetic activation of spinal microglia is sufficient to trigger chronic pain phenotypes by increasing neuronal activity via IL-1 signaling.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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