The parabrachial nucleus is a critical link in the transmission of short latency nociceptive information to midbrain dopaminergic neurons

Neuroscience. 2010 Jun 16;168(1):263-72. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2010.03.049. Epub 2010 Apr 2.


Many dopaminergic neurons exhibit a short-latency response to noxious stimuli, the source of which is unknown. Here we report that the nociceptive-recipient parabrachial nucleus appears to be a critical link in the transmission of pain related information to dopaminergic neurons. Injections of retrograde tracer into the substantia nigra pars compacta of the rat labelled neurons in both the lateral and medial parts of the parabrachial nucleus, and intra-parabrachial injections of anterograde tracers revealed robust projections to the pars compacta and ventral tegmental area. Axonal boutons were seen in close association with tyrosine hydroxylase-positive (presumed dopaminergic) and negative elements in these regions. Simultaneous extracellular recordings were made from parabrachial and dopaminergic neurons in the anaesthetized rat, during the application of noxious footshock. Parabrachial neurons exhibited a short-latency, short duration excitation to footshock while dopaminergic neurons exhibited a short-latency inhibition. Response latencies of dopaminergic neurons were reliably longer than those of parabrachial neurons. Intra-parabrachial injections of the local anaesthetic lidocaine or the GABA(A) receptor antagonist muscimol reduced tonic parabrachial activity and the amplitude (and in the case of lidocaine, duration) of the phasic response to footshock. Suppression of parabrachial activity with lidocaine reduced the baseline firing rate of dopaminergic neurons, while both lidocaine and muscimol reduced the amplitude of the phasic inhibitory response to footshock, in the case of lidocaine sometimes abolishing it altogether. Considered together, these results suggest that the parabrachial nucleus is an important source of short-latency nociceptive input to the dopaminergic neurons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anesthetics, Local / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electrophysiology
  • Female
  • GABA-A Receptor Antagonists
  • Lidocaine / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Mesencephalon / physiopathology*
  • Muscimol / pharmacology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pons / physiopathology*
  • Rats
  • Substantia Nigra / physiopathology


  • Anesthetics, Local
  • GABA-A Receptor Antagonists
  • Muscimol
  • Lidocaine
  • Dopamine