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Neurons in the caudal ventrolateral medulla mediate descending pain control

Gu, X;Zhang, YZ;O'Malley, JJ;De Preter, CC;Penzo, M;Hoon, MA;

Supraspinal brain regions modify nociceptive signals in response to various stressors including stimuli that elevate pain thresholds. The medulla oblongata has previously been implicated in this type of pain control, but the neurons and molecular circuits involved have remained elusive. Here we identify catecholaminergic neurons in the caudal ventrolateral medulla that are activated by noxious stimuli in mice. Upon activation, these neurons produce bilateral feed-forward inhibition that attenuates nociceptive responses through a pathway involving the locus coeruleus and norepinephrine in the spinal cord. This pathway is sufficient to attenuate injury-induced heat allodynia and is required for counter-stimulus induced analgesia to noxious heat. Our findings define a component of the pain modulatory system that regulates nociceptive responses.