Pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide plays a key role in nitroglycerol-induced trigeminovascular activation in mice

Neurobiol Dis. 2012 Jan;45(1):633-44. doi: 10.1016/j.nbd.2011.10.010. Epub 2011 Oct 18.


Pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP) and its receptors (PAC1, VPAC) are present in sensory neurons and vascular smooth muscle. PACAP infusion was found to trigger migraine-like headache in humans and we showed its central pro-nociceptive function in several mouse pain models. Nitroglycerol (NTG)-induced pathophysiological changes were investigated in this study in PACAP gene-deleted (PACAP(-/-)) and wildtype (PACAP(+/+)) mice. Chemical activation of the trigeminovascular system was induced by 10 mg/kg i.p. NTG. Light-aversive behavior was determined in a light-dark box, meningeal microcirculation by laser Doppler blood perfusion scanning and the early neuronal activation marker c-Fos with immunohistochemistry. NTG-induced photophobia both in the early (0-30 min) and late phases (90-120 min) due to direct vasodilation and trigeminal sensitization, respectively, was significantly reduced in PACAP(-/-) mice. Meningeal blood flow increased by 30-35% during 4 h in PACAP(+/+) mice, but only a 5-10% elevation occurred from the second hour in PACAP(-/-) ones. The number of c-Fos expressing cells referring to neuronal activation in the trigeminal ganglia and nucleus caudalis significantly increased 4h after NTG in PACAP(+/+), but not in PACAP(-/-) animals. Similar PAC1 receptor immunostaining was detected in both groups, which did not change 4 h after NTG treatment. PACAP-38 (300 μg/kg, i.p.) produced photophobia similarly to NTG and 30% meningeal vasodilatation for 30 min in PACAP(+/+), but not in PACAP(-/-) mice. It significantly increased neural activation 4h later in the trigeminal ganglia of both groups, but in the nucleus caudalis of only the PACAP(+/+) mice. We provide the first experimental results that PACAP is a pivotal mediator of trigeminovascular activation/sensitization and meningeal vasodilation related to migraine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood Vessels / drug effects
  • Blood Vessels / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Nitroglycerin / pharmacology*
  • Photophobia / chemically induced
  • Photophobia / metabolism
  • Pituitary Adenylate Cyclase-Activating Polypeptide / genetics
  • Pituitary Adenylate Cyclase-Activating Polypeptide / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Pituitary Adenylate Cyclase-Activating Polypeptide, Type I / genetics
  • Receptors, Pituitary Adenylate Cyclase-Activating Polypeptide, Type I / metabolism
  • Trigeminal Nuclei / drug effects
  • Trigeminal Nuclei / metabolism*
  • Vasodilation / drug effects
  • Vasodilation / physiology*


  • Pituitary Adenylate Cyclase-Activating Polypeptide
  • Receptors, Pituitary Adenylate Cyclase-Activating Polypeptide, Type I
  • Nitroglycerin