Aims and background Psychological stress accompanies chronic inflammatory diseases such as IBD, and stress hormones can exacerbate pain signalling. In contrast, the endogenous opioid system has an important analgesic action during chronic inflammation. This study examined the interaction of these pathways. Methods Mouse nociceptive dorsal root ganglia (DRG) neurons were incubated with supernatants from segments of inflamed colon collected from patients with chronic UC and mice with dextran sodium sulfate (cDSS)- induced chronic colitis. Stress effects were studied by adding stress hormones (epinephrine and corticosterone) to dissociated neurons or by exposing cDSS mice to water avoidance stress. Changes in excitability of colonic DRG nociceptors were measured using patch clamp and Ca2++ imaging techniques. Results Supernatants from patients with chronic UC and from colons of mice with chronic colitis caused a naloxone-sensitive inhibition of neuronal excitability and capsaicin-evoked Ca2++ responses. Stress hormones decreased signalling induced by human and mouse supernatants. This effect resulted from stress hormones signalling directly to DRG neurons and indirectly through signalling to the immune system, leading to decreased opioid levels and increased acute inflammation. The net effect of stress was a change endogenous opioid signalling in DRG neurons from an inhibitory to an excitatory effect. This switch was associated with a change in G protein-coupled receptor excitatory signalling to a pathway sensitive to inhibitors of protein kinase A-protein, phospholipase C-protein and G protein βϒ subunits. Conclusions Stress hormones block the inhibitory actions of endogenous opioids and can change the effect of opioid signalling in DRG neurons to excitation. Targeting these pathways may prevent heavy opioid use in IBD.
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