Prostaglandins and cyclooxygenases [correction of cycloxygenases] in the spinal cord

Prog Neurobiol. 2001 Jul;64(4):327-63. doi: 10.1016/s0301-0082(00)00063-0.


The spinal cord is one of the sites where non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) act to produce analgesia and antinociception. Expression of cyclooxygenase(COX)-1 and COX-2 in the spinal cord and primary afferents suggests that NSAIDs act here by inhibiting the synthesis of prostaglandins (PGs). Basal release of PGD(2), PGE(2), PGF(2alpha) and PGI(2) occurs in the spinal cord and dorsal root ganglia. Prostaglandins then bind to G-protein-coupled receptors located in intrinsic spinal neurons (receptor types DP and EP2) and primary afferent neurons (EP1, EP3, EP4 and IP). Acute and chronic peripheral inflammation, interleukins and spinal cord injury increase the expression of COX-2 and release of PGE(2) and PGI(2). By activating the cAMP and protein kinase A pathway, PGs enhance tetrodotoxin-resistant sodium currents, inhibit voltage-dependent potassium currents and increase voltage-dependent calcium inflow in nociceptive afferents. This decreases firing threshold, increases firing rate and induces release of excitatory amino acids, substance P, calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) and nitric oxide. Conversely, glutamate, substance P and CGRP increase PG release. Prostaglandins also facilitate membrane currents and release of substance P and CGRP induced by low pH, bradykinin and capsaicin. All this should enhance elicitation and synaptic transfer of pain signals in the spinal cord. Direct administration of PGs to the spinal cord causes hyperalgesia and allodynia, and some studies have shown an association between induction of COX-2, increased PG release and enhanced nociception. NSAIDs diminish both basal and enhanced PG release in the spinal cord. Correspondingly, spinal application of NSAIDs generally diminishes neuronal and behavioral responses to acute nociceptive stimulation, and always attenuates behavioral responses to persistent nociception. Spinal application of specific COX-2 inhibitors sometimes diminishes behavioral responses to persistent nociception.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / pharmacology
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Cyclooxygenase 1
  • Cyclooxygenase 2
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 Inhibitors
  • Cyclooxygenase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Cyclooxygenase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Ganglia, Spinal / drug effects
  • Ganglia, Spinal / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Isoenzymes / drug effects
  • Isoenzymes / metabolism*
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Pain Measurement / drug effects
  • Prostaglandin-Endoperoxide Synthases / drug effects
  • Prostaglandin-Endoperoxide Synthases / metabolism*
  • Prostaglandins / agonists
  • Prostaglandins / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Prostaglandin / drug effects
  • Receptors, Prostaglandin / metabolism*
  • Spinal Cord / drug effects
  • Spinal Cord / metabolism*


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 Inhibitors
  • Cyclooxygenase Inhibitors
  • Isoenzymes
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Prostaglandins
  • Receptors, Prostaglandin
  • Cyclooxygenase 1
  • Cyclooxygenase 2
  • PTGS1 protein, human
  • PTGS2 protein, human
  • Prostaglandin-Endoperoxide Synthases