Identification of Different Types of Spinal Afferent Nerve Endings That Encode Noxious and Innocuous Stimuli in the Large Intestine Using a Novel Anterograde Tracing Technique
Spencer, Nicholas John
Duffield, Michael D
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In mammals, sensory stimuli in visceral organs, including those that underlie pain perception, are detected by spinal afferent neurons, whose cell bodies lie in dorsal root ganglia (DRG). One of the major challenges in visceral organs has been how to identify the different types of nerve endings of spinal afferents that transduce sensory stimuli into action potentials. The reason why spinal afferent nerve endings have been so challenging to identify is because no techniques have been available, until now, that can selectively label only spinal afferents, in high resolution. We have utilized an anterograde tracing technique, recently developed in our laboratory, which facilitates selective labeling of only spinal afferent axons and their nerve endings in visceral organs. Mice were anesthetized, lumbosacral DRGs surgically exposed, then injected with dextran-amine. Seven days post-surgery, the large intestine was removed. The characteristics of thirteen types of spinal afferent nerve endings were identified in detail. The greatest proportion of nerve endings was in submucosa (32%), circular muscle (25%) and myenteric ganglia (22%). Two morphologically distinct classes innervated myenteric ganglia. These were most commonly a novel class of intraganglionic varicose endings (IGVEs) and occasionally rectal intraganglionic laminar endings (rIGLEs). Three distinct classes of varicose nerve endings were found to innervate the submucosa and circular muscle, while one class innervated internodal strands, blood vessels, crypts of lieberkuhn, the mucosa and the longitudinal muscle. Distinct populations of sensory endings were CGRP-positive. We present the first complete characterization of the different types of spinal afferent nerve endings in a mammalian visceral organ. The findings reveal an unexpectedly complex array of different types of primary afferent endings that innervate specific layers of the large intestine. Some of the novel classes of nerve endings identified must underlie the transduction of noxious and/or innocuous stimuli from the large intestine.
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