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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1988 Oct;85(20):7820-4.

Glutamate and substance P coexist in primary afferent terminals in the superficial laminae of spinal cord.

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  • 1Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill 27599.


By light microscopic immunocytochemistry it has been previously shown that approximately equal to 70% of the neurons in rat dorsal root ganglia are labeled with an antiserum for glutamate conjugated to hemocyanin; the smaller among these neurons are also positive for substance P. By using a postembedding ImmunoGold method and electron microscopy, it is shown here that synaptic terminals in the superficial laminae of the spinal cord of rats selectively stain for the same glutamate antiserum. Immunolabeling is in small dome-shaped and in large scalloped synaptic terminals. Scalloped terminals are of two types. One type consists of dark terminals with many agranular vesicles of different size and a few large granular vesicles; these are probably endings of unmyelinated and small myelinated primary afferent fibers. The other type consists of light terminals with small agranular vesicles homogeneous in size with neurofilaments and many mitochondria; these are probably endings of larger myelinated primary afferent fibers. By means of double-labeling electron microscopic immunocytochemistry with colloidal gold particles of two different sizes, it is also shown here that substance P is present in only the dark type of glutamate-labeled scalloped terminals. The primary afferent origin of the terminals labeled by the antisera for glutamate and for substance P is demonstrated by a triple-labeling strategy: immunocytochemistry for both antisera on sections from rats in which dorsal rhizotomy or dorsal root ganglion injection of horseradish peroxidase conjugated to wheat germ agglutinin was performed. It is proposed that glutamate is the neurotransmitter in primary afferents mediating input from different peripheral receptor classes, including nociceptors. Effects of glutamate and substance P on spinal dorsal horn neurons may result from co-release of these two mediators from the same dorsal root afferent terminal.

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