The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience

Synaptic GluN2A and GluN2B containing NMDA receptors within the superficial dorsal horn activated following primary afferent stimulation.

PMID 25122884


NMDA receptors are important elements in pain signaling in the spinal cord dorsal horn. They are heterotetramers, typically composed of two GluN1 and two of four GluN2 subunits: GluN2A-2D. Mice lacking some of the GluN2 subunits show deficits in pain transmission yet functional synaptic localization of these receptor subtypes in the dorsal horn has not been fully resolved. In this study, we have investigated the composition of synaptic NMDA receptors expressed in monosynaptic and polysynaptic pathways from peripheral sensory fibers to lamina I neurons in rats. We focused on substance P receptor-expressing (NK1R+) projection neurons, critical for expression of hyperalgesia and allodynia. EAB-318 and (R)-CPP, GluN2A/B antagonists, blocked both monosynaptic and polysynaptic NMDA EPSCs initiated by primary afferent activation by ∼90%. Physiological measurements exploiting the voltage dependence of monosynaptic EPSCs similarly indicated dominant expression of GluN2A/B types of synaptic NMDA receptors. In addition, at synapses between C fibers and NK1R+ neurons, NMDA receptor activation initiated a secondary, depolarizing current. Ifenprodil, a GluN2B antagonist, caused modest suppression of monosynaptic NMDA EPSC amplitudes, but had a widely variable, sometimes powerful, effect on polysynaptic responses following primary afferent stimulation when inhibitory inputs were blocked to mimic neuropathic pain. We conclude that GluN2B subunits are moderately expressed at primary afferent synapses on lamina I NK1R+ neurons, but play more important roles for polysynaptic NMDA EPSCs driven by primary afferents following disinhibition, supporting the view that the analgesic effect of the GluN2B antagonist on neuropathic pain is at least in part, within the spinal cord.