Despite the known major role of skin blood vessel innervation in blood flow control, particularly in disease, little information on the co-innervation of blood vessels by sensory and autonomic fibers and the relationships of these fibers to one another is available. To fill this gap, we performed a light and electron microscopic analysis of the innervation of skin vessels by sensory and autonomic fibers by using the rat and monkey lower lips as a model. In rats, double-labeling immunocytochemistry revealed that combinations of fibers immunoreactive for substance P (SP) and dopamine-beta-hydroxylase (DbetaH), SP and vesicular acetylcholine transporter (VAChT), as well as DbetaH and VAChT occurred only around blood vessels in the lower dermis. All fiber types travelled in parallel and in close proximity to one another. In the upper dermis, blood vessels were innervated by SP-containing fibers only. Although nerve terminals displayed synaptic vesicles, synaptic specializations were never observed, suggesting that, in this territory, these fibers do not establish synaptic contacts. Quantification of the distance between the various immunoreactive terminals and their presumptive targets (smooth muscle cells and endothelial cells) revealed that both sympathetic and parasympathetic fibers were significantly closer to the endothelial cell layer and smooth muscle cells compared with sensory fibers. In monkeys, double-labeling immunocytochemistry was performed for SP-DbetaH and SP-VAChT only. The results obtained are similar to those found in rats; however, the fiber density was greater in monkeys. Our findings suggest that the regulation of skin microcirculation might be the result of the coordinated functions of sensory and autonomic fibers.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.