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J Neurosci. 2002 May 15;22(10):4103-13.

Projection neurons in lamina I of rat spinal cord with the neurokinin 1 receptor are selectively innervated by substance p-containing afferents and respond to noxious stimulation.

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  • 1Spinal Cord Group, Institute of Biomedical and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, United Kingdom.


Lamina I of the spinal cord is densely innervated by nociceptive primary afferents, many of which contain substance P. It contains numerous projection neurons: the majority of these respond to noxious stimuli, however some are activated by cooling. In the rat, approximately 80% of the projection neurons express the neurokinin 1 (NK1) receptor, on which substance P acts, and most cells with this receptor are activated by noxious stimuli. Lamina I neurons can be classified morphologically into pyramidal, multipolar, and fusiform types. It has been reported in the cat that pyramidal neurons are activated only by cooling and that in monkey relatively few pyramidal cells are NK1 receptor-immunoreactive. We have used immunocytochemistry to examine the innervation of lamina I projection neurons in the rat by substance P-containing primary afferents and their responses to a noxious stimulus (subcutaneous formalin injection). NK1 receptor-immunoreactive projection cells received a significantly higher density of contacts from substance P-containing afferents than neurons that lacked the receptor. Most contacts on NK1 receptor-immunoreactive cells were associated with synapses. Formalin injection induced c-Fos in approximately 80% of projection neurons with the NK1 receptor and in 25-45% of those without it. More than 80% of pyramidal neurons expressed the receptor, and for both substance P innervation and c-Fos expression there were no significant differences among different morphological types of NK1 receptor-immunoreactive neuron. We conclude that presence or absence of the NK1 receptor is a better indicator of function than morphology for lamina I projection neurons in the rat.

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