GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program



Microbiology and Physiological Systems

First Thesis Advisor

Ann R. Rittenhouse, Ph.D.


Pain, Calcium Channels, N-Type, Nociceptors, Signal Tranduction, Substance P


Pain signaling involves transmission of nociceptive stimuli in the spinal cord where a critical balance between excitatory and inhibitory inputs determines the response to noxious stimuli. The neuropeptide, substance P (SP), mediates transmission of pain in part by binding to the tachykinin receptor (NK-1R) in the dorsal horn (DH) of the spinal cord. One of SP’s downstream effects is to modulate N-type Ca2+(N-) channels. While phospholipid breakdown is a part of the inflammatory process that accompanies tissue damage, the role of this metabolic pathway has not been completely described with respect to N-channel modulation during pain signaling. Despite the incomplete understanding of this modulation, pharmacological antagonists of both NK-1R and N-channels have been used to treat pain.

In Chapter II, using whole-cell patch clamp recording techniques, the SP signaling cascade that mediates inhibition of recombinant N-channel activity was characterized. By adopting a pharmacological approach, I show that this pathway resembles the slow pathway that was earlier described for modulation of N-current by the M1 muscarinic receptor (M1R). M1R couples to Gq to stimulate phospholipid breakdown. Together with previous observations, the data presented in this chapter provide evidence for involvement of the extracellular receptor kinase (ERK1/2), phospholipase A2 and release of phospholipid metabolites in the modulation of N-current by SP. Overall, this chapter shows that phospholipid metabolism involved in modulation of N-currents is not specific to M1Rs but that other Gq-coupled receptors may also modulate N-currents via the same signal transduction pathway.

In Chapter III, enhancement of N-current by SP was studied as part of a collaborative project to understand current enhancement that occurs when a palmitoylated accessory CaVβ2a subunit is co-expressed with the pore-forming subunit CaV2.2 and the accessory subunit α2δ-1. When CaVβ3 is present, SP inhibits N-current as described in Chapter II. However, when palmitoylated CaVβ2a is co-expressed with CaV2.2 (and α2δ-1), current enhancement is observed at negative test potentials, demonstrating that both M1Rs and NK-1Rs exhibit the same profile of N-current modulation. This change in modulation by muscarinic agonists is not observed in the presence of a depalmitoylated CaVβ2a. However a chimeric CaVβ2aβ1b subunit that contains the palmitoylated N-terminus from CaVβ2a confers enhancement. Normally expression of the β1b subunit resulted in current inhibition. These findings indicated that the palmitoylated CaVβ2a participates in enhancement of current. Our data support a model where inhibition dominates over enhancement; when inhibition is blocked, enhancement may be observed. Lastly, we show that N-current inhibition by SP is minimized when exogenous palmitic acid is applied to cells co-expressing CaVβ3 subunits with N-channels. These results indicate that the presence of palmitic acid can prevent N-current inhibition when SP is applied most likely by interacting with CaV2.2. We propose a model where palmitic acid occupies the inhibitory site and serves to antagonize inhibition by a lipid metabolite, which is most likely arachidonic acid. The CaVβ2a protein seems to have a role in positioning the palmitoyl groups near CaV2.2. This chapter provides a new role for protein palmitoylation where the palmitoyl groups of CaVβ2a are both necessary and sufficient to block inhibition of another protein: CaV2.2.

In Chapter IV, I probe the role of the relative orientation of CaVβ2a and the pore-forming subunit of the N-channel in N-current modulation. Evidence is presented that shows that not just the presence of a palmitoylated CaVβ2a is necessary, but the relative orientation of CaVβ2a to CaV2.2 is critical for blocking inhibition. Using N-channel mutants that cause a change in the orientation of CaVβ2a relative to CaV2.2, I show that the block of inhibition is disrupted; inhibition by the slow pathway is rescued. These findings further support my model that the palmitoyl groups of CaVβ2a normally reside in a specific location that overlaps with the slow pathway inhibitory site on CaV2.2. Lastly I present data showing that the enhancement of N-current, observed when palmitoylated CaVβ2a is present, occurs via the slow pathway.

In Chapter V the effect of CaVβ’s orientation on N-channel modulation by the dopamine D2 receptor is tested. In this form of modulation, inhibition is rapid and voltage-dependent. The signaling pathway is membrane-delimited since Gβγ, released after receptor stimulation, directly interacts with the N-channel at a site that overlaps with a high affinity binding site for CaVβs. While N-currents are modulated by this pathway, the deletion mutants show aberrant membrane-delimited modulation. The findings in this chapter further underscore the importance of proper positioning of CaVβ to CaV2.2 for eliciting proper N-current modulation after GPCR stimulation.

Overall, the data presented in this dissertation provides a mechanistic approach into examining modulation of N-current by different GPCRs via two different signaling pathways as well as the role CaVβ subunits serve in each modulatory pathway.



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