Rapamycin reduces orofacial nociceptive responses and microglial p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase phosphorylation in trigeminal nucleus caudalis in mouse orofacial formalin model

Korean J Physiol Pharmacol. 2021 Jul 1;25(4):365-374. doi: 10.4196/kjpp.2021.25.4.365.


The mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) plays a role in various cellular phenomena, including autophagy, cell proliferation, and differentiation. Although recent studies have reported its involvement in nociceptive responses in several pain models, whether mTOR is involved in orofacial pain processing is currently unexplored. This study determined whether rapamycin, an mTOR inhibitor, reduces nociceptive responses and the number of Fos-immunoreactive (Fos-ir) cells in the trigeminal nucleus caudalis (TNC) in a mouse orofacial formalin model. We also examined whether the glial cell expression and phosphorylated p38 (p-p38) mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) in the TNC are affected by rapamycin. Mice were intraperitoneally given rapamycin (0.1, 0.3, or 1.0 mg/kg); then, 30 min after, 5% formalin (10 µl) was subcutaneously injected into the right upper lip. The rubbing responses with the ipsilateral forepaw or hindpaw were counted for 45 min. High-dose rapamycin (1.0 mg/kg) produced significant antinociceptive effects in both the first and second phases of formalin test. The number of Fos-ir cells in the ipsilateral TNC was also reduced by high-dose rapamycin compared with vehicle-treated animals. Furthermore, the number of p-p38-ir cells the in ipsilateral TNC was significantly decreased in animals treated with high-dose rapamycin; p-p38 expression was co-localized in microglia, but not neurons and astrocytes. Therefore, the mTOR inhibitor, rapamycin, reduces orofacial nociception and Fos expression in the TNC, and its antinociceptive action on orofacial pain may be associated with the inhibition of p-p38 MAPK in the microglia.

Keywords: Glia; Orofacial pain; Rapamycin; mTOR; p38 mitogen-activated protein kinases.