Background: Dopaminergic fibers originating from area A11 of the hypothalamus project to different levels of the spinal cord and represent the major source of dopamine. In addition, tyrosine hydroxylase, the rate-limiting enzyme for the synthesis of catecholamines, is expressed in 8-10% of dorsal root ganglia (DRG) neurons, suggesting that dopamine may be released in the dorsal root ganglia. Dopamine has been shown to modulate calcium current in DRG neurons, but the effects of dopamine on sodium current and on the firing properties of small DRG neurons are poorly understood.
Results: The effects of dopamine and dopamine receptor agonists were tested on the tetrodotoxin-resistant (TTX-R) sodium current recorded from acutely dissociated small (diameter ≤ 25 μm) DRG neurons. Dopamine (20 μM) and SKF 81297 (10 μM) caused inhibition of TTX-R sodium current in small DRG neurons by 23% and 37%, respectively. In contrast, quinpirole (20 μM) had no effects on the TTX-R sodium current. Inhibition by SKF 81297 of the TTX-R sodium current was not affected when the protein kinase A (PKA) activity was blocked with the PKA inhibitory peptide (6-22), but was greatly reduced when the protein kinase C (PKC) activity was blocked with the PKC inhibitory peptide (19-36), suggesting that activation of D1/D5 dopamine receptors is linked to PKC activity. Expression of D1and D5 dopamine receptors in small DRG neurons, but not D2 dopamine receptors, was confirmed by Western blotting and immunofluorescence analysis. In current clamp experiments, the number of action potentials elicited in small DRG neurons by current injection was reduced by ~ 30% by SKF 81297.
Conclusions: We conclude that activation of D1/D5 dopamine receptors inhibits TTX-R sodium current in unmyelinated nociceptive neurons and dampens their intrinsic excitability by reducing the number of action potentials in response to stimulus. Increasing or decreasing levels of dopamine in the dorsal root ganglia may serve to adjust the sensitivity of nociceptors to noxious stimuli.