Pramipexole Treatment Attenuates Mechanical Hypersensitivity In Male Rats Experiencing Chronic Inflammatory Pain

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Opioids are commonly prescribed for pain despite growing evidence of their low efficacy in the treatment of chronic inflammatory pain and the high potential for misuse. There is a clear need to investigate non-opioid alternatives for the treatment of pain. In the present study, we tested the hypothesis that acute and repeated dopamine agonist treatment would attenuate mechanical hypersensitivity in male Long-Evans rats experiencing chronic inflammatory pain. We used two clinically available therapeutics, L-DOPA (precursor of dopamine biosynthesis) and pramipexole (dopamine D2/3 receptor agonist), to examine the functional role of dopamine signaling on mechanical hypersensitivity using an animal model of chronic inflammatory pain (complete Freund's adjuvant, CFA). We found that both acute and repeated pramipexole treatment attenuated hyperalgesia-like behavior in CFA-treated animals but exhibited no analgesic effects in control animals. In contrast, there was no effect of acute or repeated L-DOPA treatment on mechanical hypersensitivity in either CFA- or saline-treated animals. Notably, we discovered some extended effects of L-DOPA and pramipexole on decreasing pain-like behavior at three days and one week post-drug treatment. We also examined the effects of pramipexole treatment on glutamatergic and presynaptic signaling in pain- and reward-related brain regions including the nucleus accumbens (NAc), dorsal striatum (DS), ventral tegmental area (VTA), cingulate cortex (CC), central amygdala (CeA), and periaqueductal gray (PAG). We found that pramipexole treatment decreased AMPA receptor phosphorylation (pGluR1845) in the NAc and DS but increased pGluR1845 in the CC and CeA. A marker of presynaptic vesicle release, pSynapsin, was also increased in the DS, VTA, CC, CeA, and PAG following pramipexole treatment. Interestingly, pramipexole increased pSynapsin in the NAc of saline-treated animals, but not CFA-treated animals, suggesting blunted presynaptic vesicle release in the NAc of CFA-treated animals following pramipexole treatment. To examine the functional implications of impaired presynaptic signaling in the NAc of CFA animals, we used ex vivo electrophysiology to examine the effects of pramipexole treatment on the intrinsic excitability of NAc neurons in CFA- and saline-treated animals. We found that pramipexole treatment reduced NAc intrinsic excitability in saline-treated animals but produced no change in NAc intrinsic excitability in CFA-treated animals. These findings indicate alterations in dopamine D2/3 receptor signaling in the NAc of animals with a history of chronic pain in association with the anti-hyperalgesic effects of pramipexole treatment.

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