Dyspareunia, also known as vaginal hyperalgesia, is a prevalent and debilitating symptom of gynaecological disorders such as endometriosis and vulvodynia. Despite this, the sensory pathways transmitting nociceptive information from female reproductive organs remain poorly characterised. As such, the development of specific treatments for pain associated with dyspareunia is currently lacking. Here, we examined, for the first time, (1) the mechanosensory properties of pelvic afferent nerves innervating the mouse vagina; (2) the expression profile of voltage-gated sodium (NaV) channels within these afferents; and (3) how pharmacological modulation of these channels alters vaginal nociceptive signalling ex vivo, in vitro, and in vivo. We developed a novel afferent recording preparation and characterised responses of pelvic afferents innervating the mouse vagina to different mechanical stimuli. Single-cell reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction determined mRNA expression of NaV channels within vagina-innervating dorsal root ganglia neurons. Vagina-innervating dorsal root ganglia neuroexcitability was measured using whole-cell patch-clamp electrophysiology. Nociception evoked by vaginal distension was assessed by dorsal horn neuron activation within the spinal cord and quantification of visceromotor responses. We found that pelvic afferents innervating the vagina are tuned to detect various mechanical stimuli, with NaV channels abundantly expressed within these neurons. Pharmacological modulation of NaV channels (with veratridine or tetrodotoxin) correspondingly alters the excitability and mechanosensitivity of vagina-innervating afferents, as well as dorsal horn neuron activation and visceromotor responses evoked by vaginal distension. This study identifies potential molecular targets that can be used to modulate vaginal nociceptive signalling and aid in the development of approaches to manage endometriosis and vulvodynia-related dyspareunia.
- Pharmacological modulation
- voltage-gated sodium channels
- female reproductive tract