Choleratoxin B subunit-binding thick myelinated, A-fibre and unmyelinated, capsaicin-sensitive nociceptive C-fibre primary afferent fibres terminate in a strict topographic and somatotopic manner in the spinal cord dorsal horn. Injection of choleratoxin B subunit-horseradish peroxidase conjugate into injured but not intact peripheral nerves produced transganglionic labelling of primary afferents not only in the deeper layers (Rexed's laminae III-IV), but also in the substantia gelatinosa (Rexed's laminae II) of the spinal dorsal horn. This was interpreted in terms of a sprouting response of the Aβ-myelinated afferents and suggested a contribution to the pathogenesis of neuropathic pain [Nature 355 (1992) 75; J Comp Neurol 360 (1995) 121]. By utilising the selective neurotoxic effect of capsaicin, we examined the role of C-fibre sensory ganglion neurons in the mechanism of this phenomenon. Elimination of these particular, capsaicin-sensitive C-fibre afferents by prior intrathecal or systemic capsaicin treatment inhibited transganglionic labelling by the choleratoxin B subunit-horseradish peroxidase conjugate of the substantia gelatinosa evoked by chronic sciatic nerve section. More importantly, prior perineural capsaicin treatment of the transected nerve proximal to the anticipated site of injection of choleragenoid 12 hours later prevented the labelling of the substantia gelatinosa, but not that of the deeper layers. Electron microscopic examination of the dorsal roots revealed no significant difference in the proportion of labelled myelinated fibres relating to the intact (54.4±5.5%) and the transected (62.4±5.4%) sciatic nerves. In contrast, the proportion of labelled unmyelinated dorsal root axons relating to the transected, but not the intact nerves showed a significant, six-fold increase after sciatic nerve transection (intact: 4.9±1.3%; transected: 35±6.7%). These observations indicate that peripheral nerve lesion-induced transganglionic labelling of the substantia gelatinosa by choleratoxin B subunit-horseradish peroxidase may be primarily accounted for by the uptake and transganglionic transport of choleragenoid by injured capsaicin-sensitive C-fibre afferents rather than a sprouting response of A-fibre afferents. The present findings suggest an essential role of capsaicin-sensitive primary sensory neurons in lesion-induced spinal neuroplastic changes and provide further support for C-fibre nociceptor neurons being promising targets for the development of new strategies in pain management.
- A-fibre sprouting
- Choleratoxin B subunit-horseradish peroxidase conjugate
- Dorsal root ganglion
- Electron microscopic histochemistry
- Nerve injury
- Unmyelinated dorsal root fibres
ASJC Scopus subject areas