Sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P) is released by immune cells and is thought to play a key role in chemotaxis and the onset of the inflammatory response. The question remains whether this lipid mediator also contributes to the enhanced sensitivity of nociceptive neurons that is associated with inflammation. Therefore we examined whether S1P alters the excitability of small diameter, capsaicin-sensitive sensory neurons by measuring action potential (AP) firing and two of the membrane currents critical in regulating the properties of the AP. External application of S1P augments the number of APs evoked by a depolarizing current ramp. The enhanced firing is associated with a decrease in the rheobase and an increase in the resistance at firing threshold although neither the firing threshold nor the resting membrane potential are changed. Treatment with S1P enhanced the tetrodotoxin-resistant sodium current and decreased the total outward potassium current (IK). When sensory neurons were internally perfused with GDP-β-S, a blocker of G protein activation, the S1P-induced increase in APs was completely blocked and suggests the excitatory actions of S1P are mediated through G-protein-coupled receptors called endothelial differentiation gene or S1PR. In contrast, internal perfusion with GDP-β-S and S1P increased the number of APs evoked by the current ramp. These results and our finding that the mRNAs for S1PRs are expressed in both the intact dorsal root ganglion and cultures of adult sensory neurons supports the notion that S1P acts on S1PRs linked to G proteins. Together these findings demonstrate that S1P can regulate the excitability of small diameter sensory neurons by acting as an external paracrine-type ligand through activation of G-protein-coupled receptors and thus may contribute to the hypersensitivity during inflammation.
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