Expression of hyperpolarization-activated and cyclic nucleotide-gated cation channel subunit 2 in axon terminals of peptidergic nociceptive primary sensory neurons in the superficial spinal dorsal horn of rats

Eur J Neurosci. 2004 Mar;19(5):1336-42. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2004.03235.x.


Hyperpolarization-activated cyclic nucleotide-gated cation channel proteins (HCN1-4), which are potentially able to modulate membrane excitability, are abundantly expressed by neurons in spinal dorsal root ganglia (DRG). In the present experiment, we investigated whether HCN2 protein is confined exclusively to the perikarya of DRG neurons or is transported from the somata to the central axons of DRG neurons that terminate in the spinal dorsal horn. Using immunohistochemical methods, we have demonstrated that laminae I-IIo of the superficial spinal dorsal horn of the adult rat spinal cord show a strong punctate immunoreactivity for HCN2. Dorsal rhizotomy resulted in a complete loss of immunostaining in the dorsal horn, suggesting that HCN2 is confined to axon terminals of primary afferents. In double labelling immunohistochemical studies, we have also shown that HCN2 widely co-localizes with calcitonin gene-related peptide, but is almost completely segregated from isolectin-B4 binding, indicating that HCN2 is primarily expressed in peptidergic nociceptive primary afferents. The expression of HCN2 in central terminals of peptidergic primary afferents was also verified with electron microscopy. Utilizing the pre-embedding nanogold method, we found that HCN2 is largely confined to axon terminals with dense-core vesicles. Within these terminals, some of the silver grains marking the accurate location of HCN2 molecules were associated with the cell membrane, and others were scattered in the axoplasm. Within the cell membrane, HCN2 was found almost exclusively in extrasynaptic locations. The results suggest that HCN2 may contribute to the modulation of membrane excitability of nociceptive primary afferent terminals in the spinal dorsal horn.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide / analysis
  • Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide / biosynthesis
  • Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Cation Channels
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology
  • Hyperpolarization-Activated Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Channels
  • Ion Channels / analysis
  • Ion Channels / biosynthesis*
  • Ion Channels / ultrastructure
  • Male
  • Neurons, Afferent / chemistry
  • Neurons, Afferent / metabolism*
  • Neurons, Afferent / ultrastructure
  • Pain / metabolism
  • Posterior Horn Cells / chemistry
  • Posterior Horn Cells / metabolism*
  • Posterior Horn Cells / ultrastructure
  • Potassium Channels
  • Presynaptic Terminals / chemistry
  • Presynaptic Terminals / metabolism*
  • Presynaptic Terminals / ultrastructure
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred WKY


  • Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Cation Channels
  • Hcn1 protein, rat
  • Hyperpolarization-Activated Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Channels
  • Ion Channels
  • Potassium Channels
  • Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide