Genuine antihyperalgesia by systemic diazepam revealed by experiments in GABAA receptor point-mutated mice

Julia Knabl, Ulrike B. Zeilhofer, Florence Crestani, Uwe Rudolph, Hanns Ulrich Zeilhofer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ionotropic γ-aminobutyric acid (GABAA) receptors control the relay of nociceptive signals at several levels of the neuraxis. Experiments with systemically applied benzodiazepines, which enhance the action of GABA at these receptors, have suggested both anti- and pronociceptive effects. The interpretation of such experiments has been notoriously difficult because of confounding sedation. Here, we have used genetically engineered mice, which carry specific benzodiazepine-insensitive GABAA receptor subunits, to test whether diazepam, a frequently used classical benzodiazepine, exerts antihyperalgesia after systemic administration in the formalin test, a model of tonic nociception. In wild-type mice, systemic diazepam (3-30 mg/kg, p.o.) dose-dependently reduced the number of formalin-induced flinches during both phases of the test by about 40-70%. This antinociception was reversed by the benzodiazepine site antagonist flumazenil (10 mg/kg, i.p.), but fully retained in GABAA receptor α1 point-mutated mice, which were resistant against the sedative action of diazepam. Experiments carried out in mice with two diazepam-insensitive subunits (α1/α2, α1/α3 and α1/α5 double point-mutated mice) allowed addressing the contribution of α2, α3 and α5 subunits to systemic diazepam-induced antihyperalgesia in the absence of sedation. The relative contributions of these subunits were α2 ≈ α3 > α5, and thus very similar to those found for intrathecal diazepam (0.09 mg/kg). Accordingly, SL-651498 (10 mg/kg, p.o.), an "anxioselective" benzodiazepine site agonist with preferential activity at α2/α3 subunits, significantly reduced formalin-induced flinching in wild-type mice. We conclude that systemic diazepam exerts a genuine antihyperalgesic effect, which depends on spinal GABAA receptors containing α2 and/or α3 subunits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)233-238
Number of pages6
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Benzodiazepine
  • Diazepam
  • GABA receptor
  • Hyperalgesia
  • Pain
  • Point mutation
  • Spinal cord

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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