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J Neurosci. 1998 Aug 1;18(15):5928-37.

Differential distribution of alpha2A and alpha2C adrenergic receptor immunoreactivity in the rat spinal cord.

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Graduate Program in Neuroscience, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455, USA.


alpha2-Adrenergic receptors (alpha2-ARs) mediate a number of physiological phenomena, including spinal analgesia. We have developed subtype-selective antisera against the C termini of the alpha2A-AR and alpha2C-AR to investigate the relative distribution and cellular source or sources of these receptor subtypes in the rat spinal cord. Immunoreactivity (IR) for both receptor subtypes was observed in the superficial layers of the dorsal horn of the spinal cord. Our results suggest that the primary localization of the alpha2A-AR in the rat spinal cord is on the terminals of capsaicin-sensitive, substance P (SP)-containing primary afferent fibers. In contrast, the majority of alpha2C-AR-IR was not of primary afferent origin, not strongly colocalized with SP-IR, and not sensitive to neonatal capsaicin treatment. Spinal alpha2C-AR-IR does not appear to colocalize with the neurokinin-1 receptor, nor is it localized on astrocytes, as evidenced by a lack of costaining with the glial marker GFAP. However, some colocalization was observed between alpha2C-AR-IR and enkephalin-IR, suggesting that the alpha2C-AR may be expressed by a subset of spinal interneurons. Interestingly, neither subtype was detected on descending noradrenergic terminals. These results indicate that the alpha2-AR subtypes investigated are likely expressed by different subpopulations of neurons and may therefore subserve different physiological functions in the spinal cord, with the alpha2A-AR being more likely to play a role in the modulation of nociceptive information.

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