Two populations of neurokinin 1 receptor-expressing projection neurons in lamina I of the rat spinal cord that differ in AMPA receptor subunit composition and density of excitatory synaptic input.

PMID 20303396


Lamina I of the spinal cord contains many projection neurons that express the neurokinin 1 receptor (NK1r). It has been reported that these cells can undergo long-term potentiation (LTP), which may result from insertion of AMPA-type glutamate receptors (AMPArs) containing GluA1 or GluA4 subunits. We therefore investigated synaptic AMPAr expression on these cells with immunocytochemistry following antigen-retrieval. We also examined their density of glutamatergic input (by analysing AMPAr synaptic puncta and contacts from glutamatergic boutons), and phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated kinases (pERKs) following noxious stimulation. Our results indicate that there are two populations of NK1r-expressing projection neurons: large GluA4(+)/GluA1(-) cells with a high density of glutamatergic input and small GluA1(+)/GluA4(-) cells with a much lower input density. Results from pERK experiments suggested that the two groups may not differ in the types of noxious stimulus that activate them. Glutamatergic synapses on distal dendrites of the large cells were significantly longer than those on proximal dendrites, which presumably compensates for the greater attenuation of distally-generated excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs). Both types of cell received contacts from peptidergic primary afferents, however, on the large cells these appeared to constitute over half of the glutamatergic synapses, and were often associated with elongated AMPAr puncta. This suggests that these afferents, which probably contain substance P, provide a powerful, secure synaptic input to large NK1r-expressing projection neurons. These results demonstrate the importance of GluA4-containing AMPArs in nociceptive transmission and raise the possibility that different forms of LTP in lamina I projection neurons may be related to differential expression of GluA1/GluA4.