cAMP signaling plays a key role in regulating pain sensitivity. Here, we uncover a previously unidentified molecular mechanism in which direct phosphorylation of the exchange protein directly activated by cAMP 1 (EPAC1) by G protein kinase 2 (GRK2) suppresses Epac1-to-Rap1 signaling, thereby inhibiting persistent inflammatory pain. Epac1(-/-) mice are protected against inflammatory hyperalgesia in the complete Freund's adjuvant (CFA) model. Moreover, the Epac-specific inhibitor ESI-09 inhibits established CFA-induced mechanical hyperalgesia without affecting normal mechanical sensitivity. At the mechanistic level, CFA increased activity of the Epac target Rap1 in dorsal root ganglia of WT, but not of Epac1(-/-), mice. Using sensory neuron-specific overexpression of GRK2 or its kinase-dead mutant in vivo, we demonstrate that GRK2 inhibits CFA-induced hyperalgesia in a kinase activity-dependent manner. In vitro, GRK2 inhibits Epac1-to-Rap1 signaling by phosphorylation of Epac1 at Ser-108 in the Disheveled/Egl-10/pleckstrin domain. This phosphorylation event inhibits agonist-induced translocation of Epac1 to the plasma membrane, thereby reducing Rap1 activation. Finally, we show that GRK2 inhibits Epac1-mediated sensitization of the mechanosensor Piezo2 and that Piezo2 contributes to inflammatory mechanical hyperalgesia. Collectively, these findings identify a key role of Epac1 in chronic inflammatory pain and a molecular mechanism for controlling Epac1 activity and chronic pain through phosphorylation of Epac1 at Ser-108. Importantly, using the Epac inhibitor ESI-09, we validate Epac1 as a potential therapeutic target for chronic pain.
Keywords: Epac1; Epac1 translocation; GRK2; Piezo2; chronic pain.