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J Comp Neurol. 1997 Sep 1;385(3):441-55.

TrkA immunoreactive neurones in the rat spinal cord.

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Department of Anatomy, Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences, Queen Mary and Westfield College, London, United Kingdom.


We report the presence in rat spinal cord of a novel neuronal system expressing tyrosine kinase receptor (trkA), the high affinity receptor for nerve growth factor (NGF). TrkA immunoreactive cell bodies were observed in the intermediate grey matter of the spinal cord and were classified into three main groups: central canal cells located dorsolateral to the aqueduct, partition cells located between lamina X, and the lateral border of the intermediate grey, and a morphologically heterogeneous group which included large cells located near the lateral border. In situ hybridization confirmed that cells in all these areas express trkA mRNA. Combined immunofluorescence and retrograde Fluoro-Gold labelling was used to further characterise the projections and neurotransmitter profile of the trkA cells. Although often located in the vicinity of preganglionic cell groups, trkA immunoreactive cells are not themselves preganglionic. Rather, the central canal and partition cells belong to a neurochemically complex cholinergic propriospinal system. Many partition cells coexpress trkA, choline acetyltransferase (ChAT), the low affinity neurotrophin receptor, p75, and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate-diaphorase (NADPH-d). In contrast, trkA immunoreactive central canal cells express ChAT, but do not express p75 and only a subpopulation express NADPH-d. The large trkA immunoreactive cells located on the lateral border do not express ChAT. TrkA immunoreactive fibres were also present and were located in the dorsal horn, in the dorsal columns, and in a bundle ventral to the aqueduct. However, double labelling revealed that the trkA immunoreactive fibres are not intrinsic but are primary afferent in origin and coexpress p75. The location of this novel trkA neuronal system is consistent with it having a role in the segmental integration of autonomic outflow. NGF could affect this system by modulating neuronal phenotype and/or synaptic efficacy.

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