Severe tissue or nerve injury can result in a chronic and inappropriate sensation of pain, mediated in part by the sensitization of spinal dorsal horn neurons to input from primary afferent fibers. Synaptic transmission at primary afferent synapses is mainly glutamatergic. Although a functioning excitatory synapse contains both alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazoleproprionic acid (AMPA) and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors in the postsynaptic membrane, recent evidence suggests that dorsal horn neurons contain some "silent" synapses, which exhibit purely NMDA receptor-mediated evoked postsynaptic currents and do not conduct signals at resting membrane potential. Serotonin, which is released onto dorsal horn neurons by descending fibers from the rostroventral medulla, potentiates sensory transmission by activating silent synapses on those neurons, i.e., by recruiting functional AMPA receptors to the postsynaptic membrane. This phenomenon may contribute to the hyperexcitability of dorsal horn neurons seen in chronic pain conditions.
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View details for PubMedID 10690634