Neuroplasticity in the amygdala drives pain-related behaviors. The central nucleus (CeA) serves major amygdala output functions and can generate emotional-affective behaviors and modulate nocifensive responses. The CeA receives excitatory and inhibitory inputs from the basolateral nucleus (BLA) and serotonin receptor subtype 5-HT2CR in the BLA, but not CeA, has been implicated anxiogenic behaviors and anxiety disorders. Here, we tested the hypothesis that 5-HT2CR in the BLA plays a critical role in CeA plasticity and neuropathic pain behaviors in the rat spinal nerve ligation (SNL) model. Local 5-HT2CR knockdown in the BLA with stereotaxic injection of 5-HT2CR shRNA AAV vector decreased vocalizations and anxiety- and depression-like behaviors and increased sensory thresholds of SNL rats, but had no effect in sham controls. Extracellular single-unit recordings of CeA neurons in anesthetized rats showed that 5-HT2CR knockdown blocked the increase in neuronal activity (increased responsiveness, irregular spike firing, and increased burst activity) in SNL rats. At the synaptic level, 5-HT2CR knockdown blocked the increase in excitatory transmission from BLA to CeA recorded in brain slices from SNL rats using whole-cell patch-clamp conditions. Inhibitory transmission was decreased by 5-HT2CR knockdown in control and SNL conditions to a similar degree. The findings can be explained by immunohistochemical data showing increased expression of 5-HT2CR in non-GABAergic BLA cells in SNL rats. The results suggest that increased 5-HT2CR in the BLA contributes to neuropathic-pain-related amygdala plasticity by driving synaptic excitation of CeA neurons. As a rescue strategy, 5-HT2CR knockdown in the BLA inhibits neuropathic-pain-related behaviors.
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