Decades of research have suggested that stimulation of supraspinal structures, such as the periaqueductal gray (PAG) and rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM), inhibits nocifensive responses to noxious stimulation through a process known as descending modulation. Electrical stimulation and pharmacologic manipulations of the PAG and RVM identified transmitters and neuronal firing patterns that represented distinct cell types. Advances in mouse genetics, in vivo imaging, and circuit tracing methods, in addition to chemogenetic and optogenetic approaches, allowed the characterization of the cells and circuits involved in descending modulation in further detail. Recent work has revealed the importance of PAG and RVM neuronal cell types in the descending modulation of pruriceptive as well as nociceptive behaviors, underscoring their roles in coordinating complex behavioral responses to sensory input. This review summarizes how new technical advances that enable cell type-specific manipulation and recording of neuronal activity have supported, as well as expanded, long-standing views on descending modulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)539-550
Number of pages12
JournalTrends in Neurosciences
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2023


  • PAG
  • RVM
  • endogenous analgesic pathways
  • itch
  • pain
  • periaqueductal gray
  • rostral ventromedial medulla


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