Neonatal tissue damage can have long-lasting effects on nociceptive processing in the central nervous system, which may reflect persistent injury-evoked alterations to the normal balance between synaptic inhibition and excitation in the spinal dorsal horn. Spinal dynorphin-lineage (pDyn) neurons are part of an inhibitory circuit which limits the flow of nociceptive input to the brain and is disrupted by neonatal tissue damage. To identify the potential molecular underpinnings of this disruption, an unbiased single-nucleus RNAseq analysis of adult mouse spinal pDyn cells characterized this population in depth and then identified changes in gene expression evoked by neonatal hindpaw incision. The analysis revealed 11 transcriptionally distinct subpopulations (ie, clusters) of dynorphin-lineage cells, including both inhibitory and excitatory neurons. Investigation of injury-evoked differential gene expression identified 15 genes that were significantly upregulated or downregulated in adult pDyn neurons from neonatally incised mice compared with naive littermate controls, with both cluster-specific and pan-neuronal transcriptional changes observed. Several of the identified genes, such as Oxr1 and Fth1 (encoding ferritin), were related to the cellular stress response. However, the relatively low number of injury-evoked differentially expressed genes also suggests that posttranscriptional regulation within pDyn neurons may play a key role in the priming of developing nociceptive circuits by early-life injury. Overall, the findings reveal novel insights into the molecular heterogeneity of a key population of dorsal horn interneurons that has previously been implicated in the suppression of mechanical pain and itch.

References

PubMed