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Insight into nociceptive circuits will ultimately build our understanding of pain processing and aid the development of analgesic strategies. Neural circuit analysis has been advanced greatly by the development of optogenetic and chemogenetic tools, which have allowed function to be ascribed to discrete neuronal populations. Neurons of the dorsal root ganglion, which include nociceptors, have proved challenging targets for chemogenetic manipulation given specific confounds with commonly used DREADD technology. We have developed a cre/lox dependant version of the engineered glutamate-gated chloride channel (GluCl) to restrict and direct its expression to molecularly defined neuronal populations. We have generated GluCl.CreON that selectively renders neurons expressing cre-recombinase susceptible to agonist-induced silencing. We have functionally validated our tool in multiple systems in vitro, and subsequently generated viral vectors and tested its applicability in vivo. Using Nav1.8Cre mice to restrict AAV-GluCl.CreON to nociceptors, we demonstrate effective silencing of electrical activity in vivo and concomitant hyposensitivity to noxious thermal and noxious mechanical pain, whereas light touch and motor function remained intact. We also demonstrated that our strategy can effectively silence inflammatory-like pain in a chemical pain model. Collectively, we have generated a novel tool that can be used to selectively silence defined neuronal circuits in vitro and in vivo. We believe that this addition to the chemogenetic tool box will facilitate further understanding of pain circuits and guide future therapeutic development.

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