Descending modulation of pain: the GABA disinhibition hypothesis of analgesia

Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2014 Dec:29:159-64. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2014.07.010. Epub 2014 Jul 26.


Within the central nervous system, descending systems exist to endogenously modulate our perception of pain. Of particular interest is a descending pathway which projects via the midbrain periaqueductal grey (PAG) and rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM) to inhibit ascending nociceptive transmission at the spinal cord dorsal horn. This descending PAG-RVM system forms the circuitry that underlies the physiological phenomenon of stress-induced analgesia (SIA), which is mediated by parallel opioid and cannabinoid neurotransmitter systems in the PAG. At the cellular level, opioids and cannabinoids are hypothesised to activate descending analgesia through an indirect process of 'GABA disinhibition'-suppression of inhibitory GABAergic inputs onto output neurons which constitute the descending analgesic pathway. While there is much indirect evidence to support disinhibition, there are still questions regarding this model that remain unaddressed. Furthermore, there is growing evidence suggesting more complex models than originally proposed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / therapeutic use*
  • Animals
  • Efferent Pathways / drug effects
  • Efferent Pathways / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Pain* / drug therapy
  • Pain* / pathology
  • Pain* / psychology
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism*


  • Analgesics
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid