While much is known about the functional properties of cutaneous nociceptors, relatively little is known about the comprehensive functional properties of group III and IV muscle afferents. We have developed a mouse ex vivo forepaw muscle, median and ulnar nerve, dorsal root ganglion (DRG), spinal cord recording preparation to examine the functional response properties, neurochemical phenotypes, and spinal projections of individual muscle afferents. We found that the majority of group III and IV muscle afferents were chemosensitive (52%) while only 34% responded to mechanical stimulation and fewer (32%) responded to thermal stimuli. The chemosensitive afferents could be grouped into those that responded to a "low"-metabolite mixture containing amounts of lactate and ATP at pH 7.0 simulating levels observed in muscle during exercise (metaboreceptors) and a "high"-metabolite mixture containing lactic acid concentrations and ATP at pH 6.6 mimicking levels observed during ischemic contractions (metabo-nociceptors). While the majority of the metabo-nociceptive fibers responding to the higher concentration levels were found to contain acid-sensing ion channel 3 (ASIC3) and/or transient receptor potential vanilloid type 1 (TRPV1), metaboreceptors responding to the lower concentration levels lacked these receptors. Anatomically, group III muscle afferents were found to have projections into laminae I and IIo, and deeper laminae in the spinal cord, while all functional types of group IV muscle afferents projected primarily into both laminae I and II. These results provide novel information about the variety of sensory afferents innervating the muscle and provide insight into the types of fibers that may exhibit plasticity after injuries.
Keywords: dorsal root ganglion; metaboreceptors; nociceptors; spinal cord.