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Neuroscience. 1996 Oct;74(3):873-84.

Differential c-fos expression in the nucleus of the solitary tract and spinal cord following noxious gastric distention in the rat.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, University of Iowa College of Medicine, Iowa City 52242, USA.


c-Fos has been used as a marker for activity in the spinal cord following noxious somatic or visceral stimulation. Although the viscera receive dual afferent innervation, distention of hollow organs (i.e. esophagus, stomach, descending colon and rectum) induces significantly more c-Fos in second order neurons in the nucleus of the solitary tract and lumbosacral spinal cord, which receive parasympathetic afferent input (vagus, pelvic nerves), than the thoracolumbar spinal cord, which receives sympathetic afferent input (splanchnic nerves). The purpose of this study was to determine the contribution of sympathetic and parasympathetic afferent input to c-Fos expression in the nucleus of the solitary tract and spinal cord, and the influence of supraspinal pathways on Fos induction in the thoracolumbar spinal cord. Noxious gastric distention to 80 mmHg (gastric distension/80) was produced by repetitive inflation of a chronically implanted gastric balloon. Gastric distension/80 induced c-Fos throughout the nucleus of the solitary tract, with the densest labeling observed within 300 microns of the rostral pole of the area postrema. This area was analysed quantitatively following several manipulations. Gastric distension/80 induced a mean of 724 c-Fos-immunoreactive nuclei per section. Following subdiaphragmatic vagotomy plus distention (vagotomy/80), the induction of c-Fos-immunoreactive nuclei was reduced to 293 per section, while spinal transection at T2 plus distention (spinal transection/80) induced a mean of 581 nuclei per nucleus of the solitary tract section. Gastric distension/80 and vagotomy/80 induced minimal c-Fos in the T8-T10 spinal cord (50 nuclei/section), but spinal transection/80 induced 200 nuclei per section. Repetitive bolus injections of norepinephrine produced transient pressor responses mimicking the pressor response produced by gastric distension/80. This manipulation induced minimal c-Fos in the nucleus of the solitary tract and none in the spinal cord. It is concluded that noxious visceral input via parasympathetic vagal afferents, and to a lesser extent sympathetic afferents and the spinosolitary tract, contribute to gastric distention-induced c-Fos in the nucleus of the solitary tract. The induction of c-Fos in the nucleus of the solitary tract is significantly greater than in the viscerotopic segments of the spinal cord, which is partially under tonic descending inhibition, but is not subject to modulation by vagal gastric afferents. Distention pressures produced by noxious gastric distention are much greater than those produced during feeding, suggesting that c-Fos induction in the nucleus of the solitary tract to noxious distention is not associated with physiological mechanisms of feeding and satiety. The large vagal nerve-mediated induction of c-Fos in the nucleus of the solitary tract following gastric distension suggests that parasympathetic afferents contribute to the processing of noxious visceral stimuli, perhaps by contributing to the affective-emotional component of visceral pain.

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