It is now well established that the analgesic actions of opioids can be modified by "anti-analgesic" or "antiopioid" peptides, among them cholecystokinin (CCK). Although the focus of much recent work concerned with CCK-opioid interactions has been at the level of the spinal cord, CCK also acts within the brain to modify opioid analgesia. The aim of the present study was to characterize the actions of CCK in a brain region in which the circuitry mediating the analgesic actions of opioids is relatively well understood, the rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM). Single-cell recording was combined with local infusion of CCK in the RVM and systemic administration of morphine in lightly anesthetized rats. The tail-flick reflex was used as a behavioral index of nociceptive responsiveness. Two classes of RVM neurons with distinct responses to opioids have been identified. OFF cells are activated, indirectly, by morphine and μ-opioid agonists, and there is strong evidence that this activation is crucial to opioid antinociception. ON cells, thought to facilitate nociception, are directly inhibited by opioids. Cells of a third class, NEUTRAL cells, do not respond to opioids, and whether they have any role in nociceptive modulation is unknown. CCK microinjected into the RVM by itself had no effect on tail flick latency or the firing of any cell class but significantly attenuated opioid activation of OFF cells and inhibition of the tail flick. Opioid suppression of ON-cell firing was not significantly altered by CCK. Thus CCK acting within the RVM attenuates the analgesic effect of systemically administered morphine by preventing activation of the putative pain inhibiting output neurons of the RVM, the OFF cells. CCK thus differs from another antiopioid peptide, orphanin FQ/nociceptin, which interferes with opioid analgesia by potently suppressing all OFF-cell firing.
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