In perilous and stressful situations, the ability to suppress pain can be critical for survival. The rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM) contains neurons that robustly inhibit nociception at the level of the spinal cord through a top-down modulatory pathway. Although much is known about the role of the RVM in the inhibition of pain, the precise ability to directly manipulate pain-inhibitory neurons in the RVM has never been achieved. We now expose a cellular circuit that inhibits nociception and itch in mice. Through a combination of molecular, tracing, and behavioral approaches, we found that RVM neurons containing the kappa-opioid receptor (KOR) inhibit itch and nociception. With chemogenetic inhibition, we uncovered that these neurons are required for stress-induced analgesia. Using intersectional chemogenetic and pharmacological approaches, we determined that RVMKOR neurons inhibit nociception and itch through a descending circuit. Lastly, we identified a dynorphinergic pathway arising from the periaqueductal gray (PAG) that modulates nociception within the RVM. These discoveries highlight a distinct population of RVM neurons capable of broadly and robustly inhibiting itch and nociception.
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