Parabrachial complex links pain transmission to descending pain modulation

Zachary Roeder, Qiliang Chen, Sophia Davis, Jonathan D. Carlson, Domenico Tupone, Mary M. Heinricher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


The rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM) has a well-documented role in pain modulation and exerts antinociceptive and pronociceptive influences mediated by 2 distinct classes of neurons, OFF-cells and ON-cells. OFF-cells are defined by a sudden pause in firing in response to nociceptive inputs, whereas ON-cells are characterized by a "burst" of activity. Although these reflex-related changes in ON- and OFF-cell firing are critical to their pain-modulating function, the pathways mediating these responses have not been identified. The present experiments were designed to test the hypothesis that nociceptive input to the RVM is relayed through the parabrachial complex (PB). In electrophysiological studies, ON- and OFF-cells were recorded in the RVM of lightly anesthetized male rats before and after an infusion of lidocaine or muscimol into PB. The ON-cell burst and OFF-cell pause evoked by noxious heat or mechanical probing were substantially attenuated by inactivation of the lateral, but not medial, parabrachial area. Retrograde tracing studies showed that neurons projecting to the RVM were scattered throughout PB. Few of these neurons expressed calcitonin gene-related peptide, suggesting that the RVM projection from PB is distinct from that to the amygdala. These data show that a substantial component of "bottom-up" nociceptive drive to RVM pain-modulating neurons is relayed through the PB. While the PB is well known as an important relay for ascending nociceptive information, its functional connection with the RVM allows the spinoparabrachial pathway to access descending control systems as part of a recurrent circuit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2697-2708
Number of pages12
Issue number12
StatePublished - Aug 10 2016


  • Brainstem
  • Descending control
  • Pain modulation
  • Raphe
  • Rostral ventromedial medulla

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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