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Open Access Research

Non-peptidergic primary afferents are presynaptic to neurokinin-1 receptor immunoreactive lamina I projection neurons in rat spinal cord

Abeer W Saeed12 and Alfredo Ribeiro-da-Silva1234*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, H3G 1Y6, Canada

2 Alan Edwards Centre for Research on Pain, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, H3A 2B2, Canada

3 Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, H3A 2B2, Canada

4 Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, McGill University, 3655 Promenade Sir-William-Osler, Montreal, Quebec, H3G 1Y6, Canada

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Molecular Pain 2012, 8:64  doi:10.1186/1744-8069-8-64

Published: 10 September 2012

Abstract

Background

Pain-related (nociceptive) information is carried from the periphery to the dorsal horn of the spinal cord mostly by two populations of small diameter primary afferents, the peptidergic and the non-peptidergic. The peptidergic population expresses neuropeptides, such as substance P and calcitonin gene-related peptide, while the non-peptidergic fibers are devoid of neuropeptides, express the purinergic receptor P2X3, and bind the isolectin B4 (IB4). Although it has been known for some time that in rat the peptidergic afferents terminate mostly in lamina I and outer lamina II and non-peptidergic afferents in inner lamina II, the extent of the termination of the latter population in lamina I was never investigated as it was considered as very minor. Because our preliminary evidence suggested otherwise, we decided to re-examine the termination of non-peptidergic afferents in lamina I, in particular with regards to their innervation of projection neurons expressing substance P receptors (NK-1r). We used retrograde labeling of neurons from the parabrachial nucleus combined with lectin IB4 binding and immunocytochemistry. Samples were examined by confocal and electron microscopy.

Results

By confocal microscopy, we studied the termination of non-peptidergic afferents in lamina I using IB4 binding and P2X3 immunoreactivity as markers, in relation to CGRP immunoreactivy, a marker of peptidergic afferents. The number of IB4 or P2X3-labeled fibers in lamina I was higher than previously thought, although they were less abundant than CGRP-labeled afferents. There were very few fibers double-labeled for CGRP and either P2X3 or IB4. We found a considerable number of IB4-positive fiber varicosities in close apposition to NK-1r-positive lamina I projection neurons, which were distinct from peptidergic varicosities. Furthermore, we confirmed at the ultrastructural level that there were bona fide synapses between P2X3-immunoreactive non-peptidergic boutons and neurokinin-1 receptor-positive lamina I dendrites.

Conclusions

These results indicate the presence of direct innervation by non-peptidergic nociceptive afferents of lamina I projection neurons expressing NK-1r. Further investigations are needed to better understand the role of these connections in physiological conditions and chronic pain states.