The rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM) exerts bidirectional descending modulation of pain attributable to the activity of electrophysiologically identified pronociceptive ON and antinociceptive OFF neurons. Here, we report that GABAergic ON neurons specifically express G protein–coupled estrogen receptor (GPER). GPER+ neurons exhibited characteristic ON-like responses upon peripheral nociceptive stimulation. Optogenetic activation of GPER+ neurons facilitated, but their ablation abrogated, pain. Furthermore, activation of GPER caused depolarization of ON cells, potentiated pain, and ameliorated morphine analgesia through desensitizing μ-type opioid receptor–mediated (MOR-mediated) activation of potassium currents. In contrast, genetic ablation or pharmacological blockade of GPER attenuated pain, enhanced morphine analgesia, and delayed the development of morphine tolerance in diverse preclinical pain models. Our data strongly indicate that GPER is a marker for GABAergic ON cells and illuminate the mechanisms underlying hormonal regulation of pain and analgesia, thus highlighting GPER as a promising target for the treatment of pain and opioid tolerance.
Yingfu Jiao, Po Gao, Li Dong, Xiaowei Ding, Youqiang Meng, Jiahong Qian, Ting Gao, Ruoxi Wang, Tao Jiang, Yunchun Zhang, Dexu Kong, Yi Wu, Sihan Chen, Saihong Xu, Dan Tang, Ping Luo, Meimei Wu, Li Meng, Daxiang Wen, Changhao Wu, Guohua Zhang, Xueyin Shi, Weifeng Yu, Weifang Rong