Stimulation of Posterior Thalamic Nuclei Induces Photophobic Behavior in Mice

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Objective

A hallmark of migraine is photophobia. In mice, photophobia‐like behavior is induced by calcitonin gene‐related peptide (CGRP), a neuropeptide known to be a key player in migraine. In this study, we sought to identify sites within the brain from which CGRP could induce photophobia.

Design

We focused on the posterior thalamic region, which contains neurons responsive to both light and dural stimulation and has CGRP binding sites. We probed this area with both optogenetic stimulation and acute CGRP injections in wild‐type mice. Since the light/dark assay has historically been used to investigate anxiety‐like responses in animals, we measured anxiety in a light‐independent open field assay and asked if stimulation of a brain region, the periaqueductal gray, that induces anxiety would yield similar results to posterior thalamic stimulation. The hippocampus was used as an anatomical control to ensure that light‐aversive behaviors could not be induced by the stimulation of any brain region.

Results

Optogenetic activation of neuronal cell bodies in the posterior thalamic nuclei elicited light aversion in both bright and dim light without an anxiety‐like response in an open field assay. Injection of CGRP into the posterior thalamic region triggered similar light‐aversive behavior without anxiety. In contrast to the posterior thalamic nuclei, optogenetic stimulation of dorsal periaqueductal gray cell bodies caused both light aversion and an anxiety‐like response, while CGRP injection had no effect. In the dorsal hippocampus, neither optical stimulation nor CGRP injection affected light aversion or open field behaviors.

Conclusion

Stimulation of posterior thalamic nuclei is able to initiate light‐aversive signals in mice that may be modulated by CGRP to cause photophobia in migraine.

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