Nociceptors, sensory neurons that detect damage or potential damage to the body, are the first stage of communicating noxious stimuli from the periphery to central nervous system (CNS). In this study, long-term potentiation (LTP) in the CNS of the medicinal leech, Hirudo verbana, was examined, taking advantage of the ability to selectively record from nociceptive synapses in this model organism. High frequency stimulation (HFS) of nociceptors produced a persistent increase in synaptic transmission and this LTP was both NMDA receptor-mediated and synapse-specific. Surprisingly, inhibition of NMDA receptors during HFS “uncovered” a persistent form of depression. This long-term depression (LTD) was mediated by the endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG) acting on a TRPV (transient receptor potential vanilloid) –like channel. These observations suggest that (1) NMDA receptor mediated LTP is observed in nociceptors across both vertebrate and invertebrate phyla and (2) there may be an interaction between NMDA receptor-mediated and endocannabinoid-mediated forms of synaptic plasticity in nociceptors. Specifically, the NMDA receptor mediated processes may suppress endocannabinoid signaling. Such findings could be significant for understanding cellular mechanisms behind nociceptive sensitization and perhaps their contribution to chronic pain.
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