Contribution of brainstem GABAergic circuitry to descending antinociceptive controls: I. GABA-immunoreactive projection neurons in the periaqueductal gray and nucleus raphe magnus

J Comp Neurol. 1990 Dec 8;302(2):370-7. doi: 10.1002/cne.903020213.


The fact that GABA receptor agonists and antagonists influence nociceptive thresholds when microinjected into the rostroventral medulla or in the spinal cord may reflect the involvement of GABAergic neuronal elements in endogenous antinociceptive pathways. In the present study we used immunocytochemistry and retrograde tract tracing to investigate the contribution of GABAergic projection neurons to the antinociceptive network linking the midbrain periaqueductal gray matter (PAG), the nucleus raphe magnus (NRM), and the spinal cord dorsal horn. The tracer, WGAapoHRP-Au was injected into either the NRM or the spinal cord and the distribution of labeled neurons in sections of the PAG and medulla, respectively, was studied. The same sections were immunostained to demonstrate GABA-immunoreactive neurons. Although GABA-immunoreactive neurons were abundant in the PAG, only 1.5% were retrogradely labeled from the NRM. Similarly, very few GABA-immunoreactive neurons within the cytoarchitectural boundaries of the NRM were retrogradely labeled from the spinal cord. A much higher proportion of GABA-immunoreactive neurons in the region lateral to the NRM, however, were retrogradely labeled from the spinal cord. Eighteen percent of GABA-immunoreactive neurons were retrogradely labeled in the nucleus reticularis paragigantocellularis; conversely, 15% of the retrogradely labeled neurons in this region were GABA-immunoreactive. These results indicate that GABAergic projections constitute a very minor component of the PAG-NRM-spinal cord pathway; however, there is a significant contribution of GABAergic neurons to the spinal projections that originate lateral to the NRM. The majority of GABAergic neurons in the PAG and NRM are presumed to be inhibitory interneurons that directly or indirectly regulate activity in efferent pathways from these regions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Stem / chemistry*
  • Brain Stem / physiology
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Medulla Oblongata / chemistry
  • Neural Pathways / chemistry
  • Neurons / chemistry*
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Periaqueductal Gray / chemistry*
  • Periaqueductal Gray / cytology
  • Raphe Nuclei / chemistry*
  • Raphe Nuclei / cytology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / analysis*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / physiology


  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid