The periaqueductal gray (PAG) is part of a descending pain modulatory system that, when activated, produces widespread and profound antinociception. Microinjection of either opioids or cannabinoids into the PAG elicits antinociception. Moreover, microinjection of the cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptor agonist HU-210 into the PAG enhances the antinociceptive effect of subsequent morphine injections, indicating a direct relationship between these two systems. The objective of this study was to characterize the distribution of CB1 receptors in the dorsolateral and ventrolateral PAG in relationship to mu-opioid peptide (MOP) receptors. Immunocytochemical analysis revealed extensive and diffuse CB1 receptor labeling in the PAG, 60% of which was found in somatodendritic profiles. CB1 and MOP receptor immunolabeling were co-localized in 32% of fluorescent Nissl-stained cells that were analyzed. Eight percent (8%) of PAG neurons that were MOP receptor-immunoreactive (-ir) received CB1 receptor-ir appositions. Ultrastructural analysis confirmed the presence of CB1 receptor-ir somata, dendrites and axon terminals in the PAG. These results indicate that behavioral interactions between cannabinoids and opioids may be the result of cellular adaptations within PAG neurons co-expressing CB1 and MOP receptors.
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