Direct inhibition of hypocretin/orexin neurons in the lateral hypothalamus by nociceptin/orphanin FQ blocks stress-induced analgesia in rats

Neuropharmacology. 2011 Mar;60(4):543-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2010.12.026. Epub 2010 Dec 30.


We recently demonstrated that hypocretin/orexin (Hcrt) and nociceptin/orphanin FQ (N/OFQ) systems coordinately regulate nociception in a mouse model of stress-induced analgesia (SIA). However, the site of N/OFQ action on modulation of SIA was elusive, since N/OFQ was administered via intracerebroventricular (i.c.v.) injection acting on widely distributed N/OFQ receptors (NOP) in the brain. In the present study, we tested the hypothesis that N/OFQ modulates the SIA directly via the inhibition of the Hcrt neurons in the lateral hypothalamus. Using both fluorescent and electron microscopy, we found that N/OFQ-containing neurons are located in the lateral hypothalamus and the N/OFQ-containing fibers make direct contacts with the Hcrt neurons. Paw thermal nociceptive test revealed that the immobilization restraint of the rat increased the thermal pain threshold by 20.5 ± 7.6%. Bilateral microinjection of N/OFQ (9 μg/side) into the rat perifornical area of the lateral hypothalamus, the brain area in which the Hcrt neurons are exclusively located, abolished the SIA. Activity of Hcrt neurons in the same animals was assessed using Fos immunohistochemistry. Percentage of Fos(+)/Hcrt neurons was lower in rats injected with N/OFQ than rats injected with saline, with the difference between groups stronger in the Hcrt neurons located medially to the fornix than in Hcrt neurons located laterally to the fornix. These results suggest that N/OFQ modulation of SIA is mediated by direct inhibition of Hcrt neuronal activity in the perifornical area. The uncovered peptidergic interaction circuitry may have broad implication in coordinated modulation by Hcrt and N/OFQ on other stress adaptive responses.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Analgesia*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Cell Count
  • Hypothalamic Area, Lateral / drug effects*
  • Hypothalamic Area, Lateral / metabolism
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Microinjections
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neuropeptides / metabolism*
  • Opioid Peptides / pharmacology*
  • Orexins
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain Perception / drug effects*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Opioid / agonists*
  • Restraint, Physical
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Stress, Physiological / drug effects*


  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Neuropeptides
  • Opioid Peptides
  • Orexins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos
  • Receptors, Opioid
  • nociceptin