Dysfunction of primary afferents innervating the pancreas has been shown to contribute to the development of painful symptoms during acute and chronic pancreatitis. To investigate the distribution and neurochemical phenotype of pancreatic afferents, Alexa Fluor-conjugated cholera toxin B (CTB) was injected into the pancreatic head (CTB-488) and tail (CTB-555) of adult male mice to label neurons retrogradely in both the dorsal root ganglia (DRG) and nodose ganglia (NG). The NG and DRG (T5-T13) were processed for fluorescent immunohistochemistry and visualized by using confocal microscopy. Spinal pancreatic afferents were observed from T5 to T13, with the greatest contribution coming from T9-T12. The pancreatic afferents were equally distributed between right and left spinal ganglia; however, the innervation from the left NG was significantly greater than from the right. For both spinal and vagal afferents there was significantly greater innervation of the pancreatic head relative to the tail. The total number of retrogradely labeled afferents in the nodose was very similar to the total number of DRG afferents. The neurochemical phenotype of DRG neurons was dominated by transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1)-positive neurons (75%), GDNF family receptor alpha-3 (GFRalpha3)-positive neurons (67%), and calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP)-positive neurons(65%) neurons. In the NG, TRPV1-, GFRalpha3-, and CGRP-positive neurons constituted only 35%, 1%, and 15% of labeled afferents, respectively. The disparity in peptide and receptor expression between pancreatic afferents in the NG and DRG suggests that even though they contribute a similar number of primary afferents to the pancreas, these two populations may differ in regard to their nociceptive properties and growth factor dependency.
(c) 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.