Temperature-sensitive transient receptor potential (TRP) channels or ‘thermo-TRP’ were stimulated on rat sensory afferents, and the effects on the phosphorylation of ERK1/2, on the regulation of TRPV1 and TRPA1, as well as the pharmacological modulation by the opioid analgesic morphine were investigated. The thermal stimuli were applied to the rat hind paw by immersion into either hot or cold water. Phospho-ERK1/2 (p-ERK1/2) was measured by fluorescence-immunohistochemistry in the lumbar dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons. TRP channel mRNA expression was measured by RT-PCR in the innervating DRGs, and the protein content of TRPV1 and TRPA1 was determined by Western blot in the DRGs and in the sciatic nerve. The thermal stimuli led to a time-dependent increase in the number of DRG cells displaying cytoplasmic and nuclear staining for p-ERK1/2. Morphine partly prevented this increase in ERK1/2 phosphorylation, exerting its effect mainly on the nuclear staining. The mRNA expression for TRPV1 and TRPA1 in the DRG did not change within 24 h following the thermal stimuli. However, the protein content of both TRPV1 and TRPA1 was regulated by the thermal stimulation and by morphine. In the DRGs and in the sciatic nerve, heat or cold stimuli per se tended to decrease TRP protein levels, whereas with morphine pretreatment protein levels were raised. The present findings shed new light on the time-dependent reactions of primary sensory neurons towards irritant thermal stimuli to the skin and on their opioid modulation.

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