It is generally accepted that the endocannabinoid system plays important roles in spinal pain processing. Although it is documented that cannabinoid-1 receptors are strongly expressed in the superficial spinal dorsal horn, the cellular distribution of enzymes that can synthesize endocannabinoid ligands is less well studied. Thus, using immunocytochemical methods at the light and electron microscopic levels, we investigated the distribution of diacylglycerol lipase-alpha (DGL-α) and N-acylphosphatidylethanolamine-specific phospholipase D (NAPE-PLD), enzymes synthesizing the endocannabinoid ligands, 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) and anandamide, respectively. Positive labeling was revealed only occasionally in axon terminals, but dendrites displayed strong immunoreactivity for both enzymes. However, the dendritic localization of DGL-α and NAPE-PLD showed a remarkably different distribution. DGL-α immunolabeling in dentrites was always revealed at membrane compartments in close vicinity to synapses. In contrast to this, dendritic NAPE-PLD labeling was never observed in association with synaptic contacts. In addition to dendrites, a substantial proportion of astrocytic (immunoreactive for GFAP) and microglial (immunoreactive for CD11b) profiles were also immunolabeled for both DGL-α and NAPE-PLD. Glial processes immunostained for DGL-α were frequently found near to synapses in which the postsynaptic dendrite was immunoreactive for DGL-α, whereas NAPE-PLD immunoreactivity on glial profiles at the vicinity of synapses was only occasionally observed. Our results suggest that both neurons and glial cells can synthesize and release 2-AG and anandamide in the superficial spinal dorsal horn. The 2-AG can primarily be released by postsynaptic dendrites and glial processes adjacent to synapses, whereas anandamide can predominantly be released from nonsynaptic dendritic and glial compartments.
- Glial cells
- Nociceptive primary afferents
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience