Projections from the periaqueductal gray (PAG) to the rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM) are known to engage in descending pain modulation, but how the neural substrates of the PAG-RVM projections contribute to neuropathic pain remains largely unknown. In this study, we showed somatostatin-expressing glutamatergic neurons in the lateral/ventrolateral PAG that facilitate mechanical and thermal hypersensitivity in a mouse model of chemotherapy-induced neuropathic pain. We found that these neurons form direct excitatory connections with neurons in the RVM region. Inhibition of this PAG-RVM projection alleviates mechanical and thermal hypersensitivity associated with neuropathy, whereas its activation enhances hypersensitivity in the mice. Thus, our findings revealed that somatostatin neurons within the PAG-RVM axial are crucial for descending pain facilitation and can potentially be exploited as a useful therapeutic target for neuropathic pain. PERSPECTIVE: We report the profound contribution of somatostatin neurons within the PAG-RVM projections to descending pain facilitation underlying neuropathic pain. These results may help to develop central therapeutic strategies for neuropathic pain.
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