Although convincing experimental evidence indicates that Na+/K+/Cl− cotransporter 1 (NKCC1) is involved in spinal nociceptive information processing and in the generation of hyperalgesia and allodynia in chronic pain states, the cellular distribution of NKCC1 in the superficial spinal dorsal horn is still poorly understood. Because this important piece of knowledge is missing, the effect of NKCC1 on pain processing is still open to conflicting interpretations. In this study, to provide the missing experimental data, we investigated the cellular distribution of NKCC1 in the superficial spinal dorsal horn by immunohistochemical methods. We demonstrated for the first time that almost all spinal axon terminals of peptidergic nociceptive primary afferents express NKCC1. In contrast, virtually all spinal axon terminals of nonpeptidergic nociceptive primary afferents were negative for NKCC1. Data on the colocalization of NKCC1 with axonal and glial markers indicated that it is almost exclusively expressed by axon terminals and glial cells in laminae I–IIo. In lamina IIi, however, we observed a strong immunostaining for NKCC1 also in the dendrites and cell bodies of PV-containing inhibitory neurons and a weak staining in PKCγ-containing excitatory neurons. Our results facilitate further thinking about the role of NKCC1 in spinal pain processing.
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