dmPFC-vlPAG projection neurons contribute to pain threshold maintenance and antianxiety behaviors

J Clin Invest. 2020 Dec 1;130(12):6555-6570. doi: 10.1172/JCI127607.


The dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) has been recognized as a key cortical area for nociceptive modulation. However, the underlying neural pathway and the function of specific cell types remain largely unclear. Here, we show that lesions in the dmPFC induced an algesic and anxious state. Using multiple tracing methods including a rabies-based transsynaptic tracing method, we outlined an excitatory descending neural pathway from the dmPFC to the ventrolateral periaqueductal gray (vlPAG). Specific activation of the dmPFC/vlPAG neural pathway by optogenetic manipulation produced analgesic and antianxiety effects in a mouse model of chronic pain. Inhibitory neurons in the dmPFC were specifically activated using a chemogenetic approach, which logically produced an algesic and anxious state under both normal and chronic pain conditions. Antagonists of the GABAA receptor (GABAAR) or mGluR1 were applied to the dmPFC, which produced analgesic and antianxiety effects. In summary, the results of our study suggest that the dmPFC/vlPAG neural pathway might participate in the maintenance of pain thresholds and antianxiety behaviors under normal conditions, while silencing or suppressing the dmPFC/vlPAG pathway might be involved in the initial stages and maintenance of chronic pain and the emergence of anxiety-like behaviors.

Keywords: Depression; Neuroscience; Pain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / pharmacology*
  • Chronic Pain* / drug therapy
  • Chronic Pain* / genetics
  • Chronic Pain* / metabolism
  • Chronic Pain* / physiopathology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neural Pathways* / metabolism
  • Neural Pathways* / pathology
  • Neural Pathways* / physiopathology
  • Optogenetics
  • Prefrontal Cortex* / metabolism
  • Prefrontal Cortex* / pathology
  • Prefrontal Cortex* / physiopathology
  • Receptors, Metabotropic Glutamate / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptors, Metabotropic Glutamate / genetics
  • Receptors, Metabotropic Glutamate / metabolism


  • Anti-Anxiety Agents
  • Receptors, Metabotropic Glutamate
  • metabotropic glutamate receptor type 1