The excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate coexists with the peptide known as substance P in primary afferents that respond to painful stimulation. Because blockers of glutamate receptors reliably reduce pain behaviour, it is assumed that 'pain' messages are mediated by glutamate action on dorsal horn neurons. The contribution of substance P, however, is still unclear. We have now disrupted the mouse preprotachykinin A gene (PPT- A), which encodes substance P and a related tachykinin, neurokinin A (ref. 5). We find that although the behavioural response to mildly painful stimuli is intact in these mice, the response to moderate to intense pain is significantly reduced. Neurogenic inflammation, which results from peripheral release of substance P and neurokinin A (ref. 6), is almost absent in the mutant mice. We conclude that the release of tachykinins from primary afferent pain-sensing receptors (nociceptors) is required to produce moderate to intense pain.
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