Protease-activated receptor 2 (PAR2) has long been implicated in inflammatory and visceral pain, but the cellular basis of PAR2-evoked pain has not been delineated. Although PAR2-evoked pain has been attributed to sensory neuron expression, RNA-sequencing experiments show ambiguous F2rl1 mRNA detection. Moreover, many pharmacological tools for PAR2 are nonspecific, acting also on the Mas-related GPCR family (Mrg) that are highly enriched in sensory neurons. We sought to clarify the cellular basis of PAR2-evoked pain. We developed a PAR2–conditional knockout mouse and specifically deleted PAR2 in all sensory neurons using the PirtCre mouse line. Our behavioral findings show that PAR2 agonist–evoked mechanical hyperalgesia and facial grimacing, but not thermal hyperalgesia, are dependent on PAR2 expression in sensory neurons that project to the hind paw in male and female mice. F2rl1 mRNA is expressed in a discrete population (~4%) of mostly small-diameter sensory neurons that coexpress the Nppb and IL31ra genes. This cell population has been implicated in itch, but our work shows that PAR2 activation in these cells causes clear pain-related behaviors from the skin. Our findings show that a discrete population of DRG sensory neurons mediate PAR2-evoked pain.
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