Inhibitory interneurons in the spinal dorsal horn (SDH) are crucial for processing somatosensory information originating in the periphery. However, the effects of the acute and selective inactivation of GABAergic SDH interneurons on pain processing are not fully understood. In this study, we used designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs (DREADD) technology and vesicular GABA transporter-Cre (Vgat-Cre) mice to selectively express a modified human muscarinic Gi protein-coupled receptor (hM4Di) in Vgat-Cre + GABAergic SDH interneurons in the fourth lumbar segment. We found that clozapine-N-oxide (CNO) treatment rapidly hyperpolarized these neurons and induced spontaneous nocifensive behaviours in these mice. In Vgat-Cre neg lamina II neurons, CNO produced facilitation of A fibre-mediated polysynaptic excitatory responses, an effect that required N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor activation. The CNO-induced nocifensive behaviours were also reduced by NMDA receptor antagonism. Moreover, these nocifensive behaviours were suppressed by pregabalin but resistant to morphine. Our findings indicate that Vgat-Cre + SDH interneurons play an important role in morphine-resistant nocifensive behaviours and suggest that this approach may provide a useful model for understanding the mechanisms of opioid-resistant pain signalling and for developing novel analgesics.
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