Protein kinase C mediates the synergistic interaction between agonists acting at alpha2-adrenergic and delta-opioid receptors in spinal cord

J Neurosci. 2009 Oct 21;29(42):13264-73. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1907-09.2009.


Coactivation of spinal alpha(2)-adrenergic receptors (ARs) and opioid receptors produces antinociceptive synergy. Antinociceptive synergy between intrathecally administered alpha(2)AR and opioid agonists is well documented, but the mechanism underlying this synergy remains unclear. The delta-opioid receptor (DOP) and the alpha(2A)ARs are coexpressed on the terminals of primary afferent fibers in the spinal cord where they may mediate this phenomenon. We evaluated the ability of the DOP-selective agonist deltorphin II (DELT), the alpha(2)AR agonist clonidine (CLON) or their combination to inhibit calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) release from spinal cord slices. We then examined the possible underlying signaling mechanisms involved through coadministration of inhibitors of phospholipase C (PLC), protein kinase C (PKC) or protein kinase A (PKA). Potassium-evoked depolarization of spinal cord slices caused concentration-dependent release of CGRP. Coadministration of DELT and CLON inhibited the release of CGRP in a synergistic manner as confirmed statistically by isobolograpic analysis. Synergy was dependent on the activation of PLC and PKC, but not PKA, whereas the effect of agonist administration alone was only dependent on PLC. The importance of these findings was confirmed in vivo, using a thermal nociceptive test, demonstrating the PKC dependence of CLON-DELT antinociceptive synergy in mice. That inhibition of CGRP release by the combination was maintained in the presence of tetrodotoxin in spinal cord slices suggests that synergy does not rely on interneuronal signaling and may occur within single subcellular compartments. The present study reveals a novel signaling pathway underlying the synergistic analgesic interaction between DOP and alpha(2)AR agonists in the spinal cord.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic alpha-2 Receptor Agonists
  • Adrenergic alpha-Agonists / pharmacology
  • Anesthetics, Local / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide / metabolism
  • Clonidine / pharmacology
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Combinations
  • Drug Synergism
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Evoked Potentials / drug effects
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / drug effects
  • Female
  • Hyperalgesia / metabolism
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Injections, Spinal / methods
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Inbred ICR
  • Oligopeptides / pharmacology
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques / methods
  • Posterior Horn Cells / drug effects
  • Posterior Horn Cells / metabolism
  • Potassium / pharmacology
  • Protein Kinase C / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, alpha-2 / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Opioid, delta / agonists
  • Receptors, Opioid, delta / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Spinal Cord / cytology
  • Spinal Cord / metabolism
  • Substance P / metabolism
  • Tetrodotoxin / pharmacology


  • Adrenergic alpha-2 Receptor Agonists
  • Adrenergic alpha-Agonists
  • Anesthetics, Local
  • Drug Combinations
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Oligopeptides
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, alpha-2
  • Receptors, Opioid, delta
  • deltorphin II, Ala(2)-
  • Substance P
  • Tetrodotoxin
  • Protein Kinase C
  • Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide
  • Clonidine
  • Potassium