Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Pharmacology & Toxicology

First Advisor

Imad Damaj


The α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) subtype is abundantly expressed in the central nervous system (CNS) and in the periphery. Positive allosteric modulators (PAMs) of the α7 increase the response to an agonist and are divided into two types depending on whether they also decrease desensitization of the receptor (type II) or not (type I). Therefore, this study aims to investigate whether the enhancement of endogenous α7 nAChR function will result in a beneficial effect in nociceptive, inflammatory and chronic neuropathic pain models. While NS1738 and PNU-120596 were not active to reduce acute thermal pain, measured by hot-plate and tail-flick tests, only PNU-120596 dose-dependently attenuated paw-licking behavior in the formalin test. Our results with selective (MEK) inhibitor U0126 argues for an important role of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK1/2) pathways activation in PNU-120596’s antinociceptive effects in formalin-induced pain. The α7 antagonist MLA, via intrathecal and intraplantar administration, reversed PNU-120596’s effects, confirming PNU-120596’s action through central and peripheral α7 nAChRs. Tolerance to PNU-120596 was not developed after chronic treatment of the drug. Furthermore, mixtures of PNU-120596 and choline, an endogenous α7 nAChR agonist, synergistically reduced formalin-induced pain, while interactions of non-antinociceptive doses of PNU-120596 and PHA-543613, a selective α7 nAChR agonist, or nicotine resulted in antinociception. In contrast, PNU-120596 failed to enhance nicotine-induced convulsions, -hypomotility and –antinociception in acute pain models. Surprisingly, it enhanced nicotine-induced hypothermia via α7 nAChRs. In the carrageenan inflammatory test both NS1738 and PNU-120596 significantly reduced thermal hyperalgesia, while only PNU-120596 significantly reduced edema. Importantly, PNU-120596 reversed established thermal hyperalgesia and edema induced by carrageenan. In the chronic neuropathic pain (CCI) model, PNU-120596 had long-lasting (up to 6 hrs), dose-dependent anti-hyperalgesic and anti-allodynic effects after a single injection, while NS1738 was inactive. Subcutaneous and intrathecal administration of MLA reversed PNU-120596’s effects, suggesting the involvement of α7 nAChRs. Finally, PNU-120596 enhanced an ineffective dose of selective agonist PHA-543613 to produce anti-allodynic effects in the CCI model. Our results show a fundamental in vivo difference between type I and II α7 nAChR PAMs, and demonstrate type II’s potential for the treatment of chronic inflammatory pain.


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Date of Submission

July 2012