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Brain Res Mol Brain Res. 1993 Apr;18(1-2):141-51.

Region-specific expression of subunits of ionotropic glutamate receptors (AMPA-type, KA-type and NMDA receptors) in the rat spinal cord with special reference to nociception.

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Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience, Osaka University Medical School, Japan.


The present study attempted to explore the gene expression of the subunits (GluR1-4) of the alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA)-type receptor, subunit (GluR5) of kainic acid (KA)-type receptor, NR1 [a subunit of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors] and the possible glutamate-binding subunit of an NMDA receptor complex in the dorsal horn of the rat spinal cords using in situ hybridization histochemistry. These results were compared with those of the spinal motor neurons. Expression of the subunits of the AMPA-type receptor was also examined at the protein level using immunocytochemistry, with reference to the motor neurons. Although all the four subunits of the AMPA-type receptor were expressed throughout the dorsal horn, the pattern of expression was different according to the dorsal horn region and to the subunits. GluR2 showed the strongest expression in the dorsal horn. Huge numbers of strongly labelled cells formed a dense collection in lamina II and superficial parts of lamina III. Many neurons in lamina II and superficial parts of lamina III expressed GluR1 moderately. Scattered neurons moderately expressing GluR3 were also seen in these regions, while the expression of GluR4 was very low. Labelling of the dorsal horn neurons by the GluR5 probe was low, and NR1 probe and a glutamate-binding subunit of an NMDA receptor complex probe labelled them diffusely with low to moderate intensity. These findings show a close relationship between the glutamergic nociceptive primary afferent system and AMPA-type receptors in which GluR2 is especially highly expressed. The present study further showed that the expression pattern of the glutamate receptors in the spinal sensory neurons differs considerably from that of spinal motor neurons. Motor neurons very strongly express GluR3 and 4, while the expression of GluR2 and GluR1 is moderate and low, respectively. Expression of GluR5 is also low in the motor neurons. However, expression of NR1 and the glutamate-binding subunit of an NMDA receptor complex is very strong. These findings indicate that the subunit composition of the AMPA-type receptors regulating motor neurons is different from that of the AMPA-type receptors in the spinal sensory neurons, and that there are at least two kinds of glutamergic systems which regulate motor neurons: via AMPA-type receptors and via NMDA receptors.

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