Endogenous neuropeptide Y (NPY) exerts long-lasting spinal inhibitory control of neuropathic pain, but its mechanism of action is complicated by the expression of its receptors at multiple sites in the dorsal horn: NPY Y1 receptors (Y1Rs) on post-synaptic neurons and both Y1Rs and Y2Rs at the central terminals of primary afferents. We found that Y1R-expressing spinal neurons contain multiple markers of excitatory but not inhibitory interneurons in the rat superficial dorsal horn. To test the relevance of this spinal population to the development and/or maintenance of acute and neuropathic pain, we selectively ablated Y1R-expressing interneurons with intrathecal administration of an NPY-conjugated saporin ribosomal neurotoxin that spares the central terminals of primary afferents. NPY-saporin decreased spinal Y1R immunoreactivity but did not change the primary afferent terminal markers isolectin B4 or calcitonin-gene-related peptide immunoreactivity. In the spared nerve injury (SNI) model of neuropathic pain, NPY-saporin decreased mechanical and cold hypersensitivity, but disrupted neither normal mechanical or thermal thresholds, motor coordination, nor locomotor activity. We conclude that Y1R-expressing excitatory dorsal horn interneurons facilitate neuropathic pain hypersensitivity. Furthermore, this neuronal population remains sensitive to intrathecal NPY after nerve injury. This neuroanatomical and behavioral characterization of Y1R-expressing excitatory interneurons provides compelling evidence for the development of spinally-directed Y1R agonists to reduce chronic neuropathic pain.

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Published in Scientific Reports, v. 9, article no. 7248, p. 1-14.

© The Author(s) 2019

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Grants R01NS45954 and R01DA37621 to BKT, and Swedish RC (04-2887) to TH, Soma Bose for her help with the CGRP, IB4, Y1R, and NK1 staining, and Dr. Janice Urban (Rosalind Franklin University) for her gift of Y1 receptor antibody.

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The datasets generated during and/or analyzed during the current study will be made available from the corresponding author on request.

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