Raphe magnus neurons help protect reactions to visceral pain from interruption by cutaneous pain

J Neurophysiol. 2006 Dec;96(6):3423-32. doi: 10.1152/jn.00793.2006. Epub 2006 Aug 23.


Suppression of reactions to one noxious stimulus by a spatially distant noxious stimulus is termed heterotopic antinociception. In lightly anesthetized rats, a noxious visceral stimulus, colorectal distension (CRD), suppressed motor withdrawals but not blood pressure or heart rate changes evoked by noxious hindpaw heat. Microinjection of muscimol, a GABA(A) receptor agonist, into raphe magnus (RM) reduced CRD-evoked suppression of withdrawals, evidence that RM neurons contribute to this heterotopic antinociception. To understand how brain stem neurons contribute to heterotopic antinociception, RM neurons were recorded during CRD-elicited suppression of hindpaw withdrawals. Although subsets of RM neurons that were excited (on cells) or inhibited (off cells) by noxious cutaneous stimulation were either excited or inhibited by CRD, on cells were inhibited and off cells excited by an intracerebroventricularly administered opioid, evidence that the nociception-facilitating and -inhibiting functions of on and off cells, respectively, are predicted by the cellular response to noxious cutaneous stimulation alone and not by the response to CRD. When recorded during CRD-elicited antinociception, RM cell discharge resembled the pattern observed in response to CRD stimulation alone. However, when hindpaw withdrawal suppression was incomplete, RM cell discharge resembled the pattern observed in response to heat alone. We propose that on cells excited by CRD facilitate responses to CRD itself, which in turn augments excitation of off cells that then act to suppress cutaneous nociception. RM cells may thereby contribute to the dominance of quiet recuperative reactions evoked by potentially life-threatening visceral stimuli over transient somatomotor activity elicited by less-injurious noxious cutaneous stimuli.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Catheterization
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electrophysiology
  • Enkephalin, Ala(2)-MePhe(4)-Gly(5)- / pharmacology
  • GABA Agonists / pharmacology
  • Hot Temperature
  • Male
  • Microelectrodes
  • Muscimol / pharmacology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Posterior Horn Cells / drug effects
  • Posterior Horn Cells / physiology
  • Raphe Nuclei / cytology
  • Raphe Nuclei / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Rectum / innervation
  • Rectum / physiology
  • Serotonin / physiology
  • Skin / innervation*
  • Skin / physiopathology


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • GABA Agonists
  • Enkephalin, Ala(2)-MePhe(4)-Gly(5)-
  • Muscimol
  • Serotonin