Neurokinin 1 receptor expression by neurons in laminae I, III and IV of the rat spinal dorsal horn that project to the brainstem

Eur J Neurosci. 2000 Feb;12(2):689-700. doi: 10.1046/j.1460-9568.2000.00950.x.


Large neurons in laminae III and IV of the spinal cord which express the neurokinin 1 receptor and have dendrites that enter the superficial laminae are a major target for substance P (SP)-containing (nociceptive) primary afferents. Although some of these neurons project to the thalamus, we know little about other possible projection targets. The main aim of this study was to determine whether all cells of this type are projection neurons and to provide information about brainstem sites to which they project. Injections of cholera toxin B subunit were made into four brainstem areas that receive input from the spinal cord, and the proportion of cells of this type in the L4 spinal segment that were retrogradely labelled was determined in each case. The results suggest that most of these cells (>90%) project to the contralateral lateral reticular nucleus (or to a nearby region), while many (>60%) send axons to the lateral parabrachial area and some to the dorsal part of the caudal medulla. However, few of these cells project to the periaqueductal grey matter. As lamina I neurons with the neurokinin 1 receptor appear to be important in the generation of hyperalgesia, we also examined projection neurons in this lamina and found that for each injection site the great majority possessed the receptor. These results demonstrate that dorsal horn neurons which express the neurokinin 1 receptor contribute to several ascending pathways that are thought to be important in pain mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Afferent Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Animals
  • Axonal Transport
  • Brain Stem / anatomy & histology*
  • Cholera Toxin / pharmacokinetics
  • Hyperalgesia / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Neurons, Afferent / metabolism*
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Periaqueductal Gray / anatomy & histology
  • Posterior Horn Cells / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Neurokinin-1 / biosynthesis*
  • Spinal Cord / anatomy & histology*
  • Stereotaxic Techniques
  • Substance P / physiology


  • Receptors, Neurokinin-1
  • Substance P
  • Cholera Toxin