Many analgesic drugs, including μ-opioids, cannabinoids, and the novel nonopioid analgesic improgan, produce antinociception by actions in the rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM). There they activate pain-inhibiting neurons, termed "OFF-cells," defined by a nociceptive reflex-related pause in activity. Based on recent functional evidence that neuronal P450 epoxygenases are important for the central antinociceptive actions of morphine and improgan, we explored the convergence of opioid and nonopioid analgesic drug actions in RVM by studying the effects of the P450 epoxygenase inhibitor CC12 on the analgesic drug-induced activation of these OFF-cells and on behavioral antinociception. In rats lightly anesthetized with isoflurane, we recorded the effects of intraventricular morphine and improgan, with and without CC12 pretreatment, on tail flick latency and activity of identified RVM neurons: OFF-cells, ON-cells (pronociceptive neurons), and NEUTRAL cells (unresponsive to analgesic drugs). CC12 pretreatment preserved reflex-related changes in OFF-cell firing and blocked the analgesic actions of both drugs, without interfering with the increase in spontaneous firing induced by improgan or morphine. CC12 blocked suppression of evoked ON-cell firing by improgan, but not morphine. CC12 pretreatment had no effect by itself on RVM neurons or behavior. These data show that the epoxygenase inhibitor CC12 works downstream from receptors for both μ-opioid and improgan, at the inhibitory input mediating the OFF-cell pause. This circuit-level analysis thus provides a cellular basis for the convergence of opioid and nonopioid analgesic actions in the RVM. A presynaptic P450 epoxygenase may therefore be an important target for development of clinically useful nonopioid analgesic drugs.
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