The general anesthetic propofol excites nociceptors by activating TRPV1 and TRPA1 rather than GABAA receptors

Michael J.M. Fischer, Andreas Leffler*, Florian Niedermirtl, Katrin Kistner, Mirjam Eberhardt, Peter W. Reeh, Carla Nau

*Corresponding author for this work
70 Citations (Scopus)


Anesthetic agents can induce a paradox activation and sensitization of nociceptive sensory neurons and, thus, potentially facilitate pain processing. Here we identify distinct molecular mechanisms that mediate an activation of sensory neurons by 2,6-diisopropylphenol (propofol), a commonly used intravenous anesthetic known to elicit intense pain upon injection. Clinically relevant concentrations of propofol activated the recombinant transient receptor potential (TRP) receptors TRPA1 and TRPV1 heterologously expressed in HEK293t cells. In dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons, propofol-induced activation correlated better to expression of TRPA1 than of TRPV1. However, pretreatment with the protein kinase C activator 4β-phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA) resulted in a significantly sensitized propofol-induced activation of TRPV1 in DRG neurons as well as in HEK293t cells. Pharmacological and genetic silencing of both TRPA1 and TRPV1 only partially abrogated propofol-induced responses in DR Gneurons. The remaining propofol-induced activation was abolished by the selective γ-aminobutyric acid, type A (GABAA) receptor antagonist picrotoxin. Propofol but not GABA evokes a release of calcitonin generelated peptide, a key component of neurogenic inflammation, from isolated peripheral nerves of wild-type but not TRPV1 and TRPA1-deficient mice. Moreover, propofol but not GABA induced an intense pain upon intracutaneous injection. As both the release of calcitonin gene-related peptide and injection pain by propofol seem to be independent of GABAA receptors, our data identify TRPV1 and TRPA1 as key molecules for propofol-induced excitation of sensory neurons. This study warrants further investigations into the role of anesthetics to induce nociceptor sensitization and to foster postoperative pain.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number45
Pages (from-to)34781-34792
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 05.11.2010


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