Understanding the development of nociceptive circuits is important for the proper treatment of pain and administration of anesthesia to prenatal, newborn, and infant organisms. The spinothalamic tract (STT) is an integral pathway in the transmission of nociceptive information to the brain, yet the stage of development when axons from cells in the spinal cord reach the thalamus is unknown. Therefore, the retrograde tracer Fluoro-Gold was used to characterize the STT at several stages of development in the mouse, a species in which the STT was previously unexamined. One-week-old, 2-day-old and embryonic-day-18 mice did not differ from adults in the number or distribution of retrogradely labeled STT neurons. Approximately 3,500 neurons were retrogradely labeled from one side of the thalamus in each age group. Eighty percent of the labeled cells were located on the side of the spinal cord contralateral to the injection site. Sixty-three percent of all labeled cells were located within the cervical cord, 18% in thoracic cord, and 19% in the lumbosacral spinal cord. Retrogradely labeled cells significantly increased in diameter over the first postnatal week. Arborizations and boutons within the ventrobasal complex of the thalamus were observed after the anterograde tracer biotinylated dextran amine was injected into the neonatal spinal cord. These data indicate that, whereas neurons of the STT continue to increase in size during the postnatal period, their axons reach the thalamus before birth and possess some of the morphological features required for functionality.
(c) 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.