Presynaptic localization of the carboxy-terminus epitopes of the mu opioid receptor splice variants MOR-1C and MOR-1D in the superficial laminae of the rat spinal cord

Neuroscience. 2001;106(4):833-42. doi: 10.1016/s0306-4522(01)00317-7.


Opioids inhibit nociceptive transmission at the level of the spinal cord, possibly through inhibition of neurotransmitter release by presynaptic mu opioid receptors (MORs) thus preventing the activation of ascending pathways and the perception of pain. Most nociceptive primary afferents are unmyelinated fibers containing peptides such as substance P and/or calcitonin gene-related peptide. However, few terminals contain both substance P and MOR. Recently, we identified new carboxy-terminal MOR splice variants that are localized in the superficial laminae of the dorsal horn. We now report the precise cellular distribution of two of these MOR-1 variants, MOR-1C (exon 7/8/9 epitope) and MOR-1D (exon 8/9 epitope), at the ultrastructural level. In the superficial laminae of the dorsal horn, the majority of the labeling of MOR-1C and MOR-1D was found in unmyelinated axons. This distribution contrasts with that of MOR-1 (exon 4 epitope), in which labeling is equally found in dendrites and soma, as well as in axons. The presence of dense core vesicles in many of the MOR-1C-like immunoreactive terminals implies that this splice variant might be involved in presynaptic inhibition of transmitter release from peptide-containing afferents to the dorsal horn. Consistent with this finding, confocal microscopy analyses showed that many MOR-1C profiles in laminae I-II also contained calcitonin gene-related peptide, whereas fewer MOR-1 profiles contained either substance P or calcitonin gene-related peptide in this same region. From these findings we suggest that there are differential distributions of MOR-1 splice variants as well as distinct peptide colocalizations in the dorsal horn.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Afferent Pathways / metabolism*
  • Afferent Pathways / ultrastructure
  • Alternative Splicing / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide / metabolism
  • Epitopes / genetics
  • Epitopes / metabolism
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Nerve Fibers / metabolism
  • Nerve Fibers / ultrastructure
  • Nociceptors / metabolism*
  • Nociceptors / ultrastructure
  • Pain / metabolism
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Posterior Horn Cells / metabolism*
  • Posterior Horn Cells / ultrastructure
  • Presynaptic Terminals / metabolism*
  • Presynaptic Terminals / ultrastructure
  • Protein Isoforms / genetics
  • Protein Isoforms / metabolism
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary / genetics
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / genetics
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / metabolism*
  • Substance P / metabolism
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*


  • Epitopes
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu
  • Substance P
  • Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide