Anatomical study of serotonergic innervation and 5-HT(1A) receptor in the human spinal cord

Cell Death Dis. 2011 Oct 13;2(10):e218. doi: 10.1038/cddis.2011.98.


Serotonergic innervation of the spinal cord in mammals has multiple roles in the control of motor, sensory and visceral functions. In rats, functional consequences of spinal cord injury at thoracic level can be improved by a substitutive transplantation of serotonin (5-HT) neurons or regeneration under the trophic influence of grafted stem cells. Translation to either pharmacological and/or cellular therapies in humans requires the mapping of the spinal cord 5-HT innervation and its receptors to determine their involvement in specific functions. Here, we have performed a preliminary mapping of serotonergic processes and serotonin-lA (5-HT(1A)) receptors in thoracic and lumbar segments of the human spinal cord. As in rodents and non-human primates, 5-HT profiles in human spinal cord are present in the ventral horn, surrounding motoneurons, and also contact their presumptive dendrites at lumbar level. 5-HT(1A) receptors are present in the same area, but are more densely expressed at lumbar level. 5-HT profiles are also present in the intermediolateral region, where 5-HT(1A) receptors are absent. Finally, we observed numerous serotonergic profiles in the superficial part (equivalent of Rexed lamina II) of the dorsal horn, which also displayed high levels of 5-HT(1A) receptors. These findings pave the way for local specific therapies involving cellular and/or pharmacological tools targeting the serotonergic system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Rats
  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT1A / metabolism*
  • Serotonergic Neurons / cytology*
  • Serotonergic Neurons / metabolism
  • Spinal Cord / anatomy & histology*
  • Spinal Cord / metabolism
  • Young Adult


  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT1A