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Synapse. 1989;4(3):175-95.

Synaptic substrates for enkephalinergic and serotoninergic interactions with dental primary afferent terminals in trigeminal subnucleus interpolaris: an immunocytochemical study using peroxidase and colloidal gold.

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Department of Anatomy, Louisiana State University Medical Center, New Orleans 70119.


Pain processing in the trigeminal complex has been thought to reside primarily in the spinal subnucleus caudalis (Vc). However, trigeminal tractotomies eliminating primary afferent input to Vc and severance of secondary trigemino-thalamic fibers from Vc do not disturb pain perception from the central face and oral cavity. Furthermore, large numbers of neurons that are highly responsive to noxious stimuli and suppressed by inputs from the periaqueductal gray and raphe complex have been identified in subnuclei interpolaris (Vi) and oralis (Vo). Therefore, the purpose of this study was to assess the distribution and spatial arrangements of nociceptive modulatory transmitters with nociceptive afferents and trigemino-thalamic relay cells in the rostral portion of the spinal trigeminal nuclear complex. The dental pulp contains predominantly nociceptors that project to all three subdivisions of the trigeminal spinal complex. These projections were visualized by anterograde transganglionic transport of horseradish peroxidase or by degeneration following administration of toxic ricin to the pulp chambers. The spatial arrangements of dental primary afferents with enkephalinergic (ENK) and serotoninergic (5HT) inputs was then assessed by employing avidin-biotin peroxidase and protein-A colloidal gold double-labeling immunocytochemistry. Trigemino-thalamic relay cells were also labeled by retrograde transport of HRP after stereotaxic injections into the ventrobasal thalamus. ENK and 5HT immunoreactivity was found in the ventrolateral quadrant and lateral margin of Vi, together with the adjacent interstitial nucleus (IN). This activity extended from the caudal pole of Vi and the periobex region, where it was most dense, rostrally to a position approximately 2.9 mm from the Obex. Neither ENK nor 5HT immunoreactivity was observed in Vo. Primary dental afferents projected into the ventromedial quadrant of rostral Vi and were found in the ventrolateral quadrant and dorsal aspect of the subnucleus farther caudally. They appeared as simple boutons with single contacts or as larger, sometimes scalloped terminals that formed multiple contacts. Postsynaptic elements were usually small dendritic profiles, although relay cell somata rarely received primary afferent inputs. Many primary afferents entered areas of synaptic clustering and contacted enkephalinergic dendrites, some of which were also postsynaptic to serotoninergic synapses. Alternatively, primary afferents contacted unlabeled processes that were also postsynaptic to the enkephalinergic element to form a triad arrangement. The least common occurrence was axo-axonic contacts in which enkephalinergic synapses were presynaptic to primary afferents. Both enkephalinergic and serotoninergic synaptic categories displayed round vesicles and generally formed asymmetric junctions.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS).

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