Descending control of nociception in insects?

Proc Biol Sci. 2022 Jul 13;289(1978):20220599. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2022.0599. Epub 2022 Jul 6.


Modulation of nociception allows animals to optimize chances of survival by adapting their behaviour in different contexts. In mammals, this is executed by neurons from the brain and is referred to as the descending control of nociception. Whether insects have such control, or the neural circuits allowing it, has rarely been explored. Based on behavioural, neuroscientific and molecular evidence, we argue that insects probably have descending controls for nociception. Behavioural work shows that insects can modulate nocifensive behaviour. Such modulation is at least in part controlled by the central nervous system since the information mediating such prioritization is processed by the brain. Central nervous system control of nociception is further supported by neuroanatomical and neurobiological evidence showing that the insect brain can facilitate or suppress nocifensive behaviour, and by molecular studies revealing pathways involved in the inhibition of nocifensive behaviour both peripherally and centrally. Insects lack the endogenous opioid peptides and their receptors that contribute to mammalian descending nociception controls, so we discuss likely alternative molecular mechanisms for the insect descending nociception controls. We discuss what the existence of descending control of nociception in insects may reveal about pain perception in insects and finally consider the ethical implications of these novel findings.

Keywords: adaptation; ethics; insects; modulation; nociception; pain.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Insecta
  • Mammals
  • Neurons*
  • Nociception* / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley