Nelson, M.T., Joksovic, P.M., Perez-Reyes, E. & Todorovic, S.M. The endogenous redox agent L-cysteine induces T-type Ca2+ channel-dependent sensitization of a novel subpopulation of rat peripheral nociceptors. J. Neurosci. 25, 8766-8775
Recent studies have demonstrated a previously unrecognized contribution of T-type Ca2+ channels in peripheral sensory neurons to pain sensation (nociception). However, the cellular mechanisms underlying the functions of these channels in nociception are not known. Here, in both acutely dissociated and intact rat dorsal root ganglion neurons, we characterize a novel subpopulation of capsaicin- and isolectin B4-positive nociceptors that also expresses a high density of T-type Ca2+ currents. Using these "T-rich" cells as a model, we demonstrate that the endogenous reducing agent L-cysteine lowers the threshold for nociceptor excitability and induces burst firing by increasing the amplitude of T-type currents and shifting the gating parameters of T-type channels. These findings, which provide the first direct evidence of T-type Ca2+ channel involvement in the control of nociceptor excitability, suggest that endogenous T-type channel agonists may sensitize a unique subpopulation of peripheral nociceptors, consequently influencing pain processing under normal or pathological conditions.