Classical theories of sensory processing view the brain as a passive, stimulus-driven device. More recent views see perception as an active and highly selective operation in which top-down influences strongly shape the bottom-up information flow. An important component of top-down regulation is the corticotrigeminal tract, which directly impacts the very first processing station for sensations from the head and neck. Despite its anatomical prominence very little is known about the functions of the corticotrigeminal pathway. Here we focus on its role in modulating noxious inputs. Based on strong preliminary findings, our central hypothesis is that corticotrigeminal inputs modulate pain perception by suppressing responses of neurons in the trigeminal nuclei. The caudal spinal trigeminal nucleus (SpVc), which plays a pivotal role in pain processing, receives cortical inputs primarily from primary (SI) and second (SII) somatosensory cortex, and the insular cortex.
Aim I will use single unit recordings in anesthetized rats to: (1) determine whether corticotrigeminal inputs suppress the activity of SpVc projection neurons, and (2) compare the roles of inputs from SI, SII and insular cortex. Exciting preliminary findings indicate that SII strongly suppresses while SI excites SpVc projection neurons.
Aim II will investigate the cellular bases of corticotrigeminal function using our recently developed optogenetic approach in which the light sensitive cation channel, channelrhodopsin, is expressed in corticotrigeminal neurons and their axon terminals. This novel approach allows selective activation of corticotrigeminal synapses in SpVc. Patch clamp recordings in in vitro slices will compare the properties of corticotrigeminal synaptic inputs to projection and local circuit neurons in SpVc. This will dissect the circuit and synaptic mechanisms by which excitatory corticotrigeminal inputs are transformed into potent feed- forward inhibition in SpVc.
In Aim III we directly test the hypothesis that corticotrigeminal inputs regulate behavioral responses to nociceptive inputs. For this we have adapted a new operant behavioral paradigm that measures responses to thermal stimuli, and the effects of manipulating corticotrigeminal activity on these behavioral responses. These studies will disclose, for the first time, how corticotrigeminal inputs from each of the three cortical areas regulate pain perception. Unraveling the synaptic mechanisms of these modulatory influences will provide information needed to improve pharmacologic therapies for persistent pain. Finally, by pinpointing the roles of specific cortical regions in pain modulation, these results will advance current treatments that use cortical stimulation for pain relief.

Public Health Relevance

Many chronic pain conditions are resistant to conventional therapy. Promising, new approaches to pain management capitalize on the brain's own mechanisms for controlling pain perception. The proposed research will advance such approaches by discovering how the cerebral cortex-the seat of consciousness-controls the processing of pain information from structures in the head and neck.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Dental & Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)
Research Project (R01)
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Clinical Neuroplasticity and Neurotransmitters Study Section (CNNT)
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Kusiak, John W
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University of Maryland Baltimore
Anatomy/Cell Biology
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Raver, Sylvina M; Haughwout, Sarah P; Keller, Asaf (2013) Adolescent cannabinoid exposure permanently suppresses cortical oscillations in adult mice. Neuropsychopharmacology 38:2338-47