A quantitative study of inhibitory interneurons in laminae I-III of the mouse spinal dorsal horn

PLoS One. 2013 Oct 25;8(10):e78309. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0078309. eCollection 2013.


Laminae I-III of the spinal dorsal horn contain many inhibitory interneurons that use GABA and/or glycine as a neurotransmitter. Distinct neurochemical populations can be recognised among these cells, and these populations are likely to have differing roles in inhibiting pain or itch. Quantitative studies in rat have shown that inhibitory interneurons account for 25-40% of all neurons in this region. The sst2A receptor is expressed by around half the inhibitory interneurons in laminae I-II, and is associated with particular neurochemically-defined populations. Although much of the work on spinal pain mechanisms has been performed on rat, the mouse is now increasingly used as a model, due to the availability of genetically altered lines. However, quantitative information on the arrangement of interneurons is lacking in the mouse, and it is possible that there are significant species differences in neuronal organisation. In this study, we show that as in the rat, nearly all neurons in laminae I-III that are enriched with glycine also contain GABA, which suggests that GABA-immunoreactivity can be used to identify inhibitory interneurons in this region. These cells account for 26% of the neurons in laminae I-II and 38% of those in lamina III. As in the rat, the sst2A receptor is only expressed by inhibitory interneurons in laminae I-II, and is present on just over half (54%) of these cells. Antibody against the neurokinin 1 receptor was used to define lamina I, and we found that although the receptor was concentrated in this lamina, it was expressed by many fewer cells than in the rat. By estimating the total numbers of neurons in each of these laminae in the L4 segment of the mouse, we show that there are around half as many neurons in each lamina as are present in the corresponding segment of the rat.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Glycine / metabolism
  • Interneurons / metabolism
  • Interneurons / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Neurokinin-1 / metabolism
  • Receptors, Somatostatin / metabolism
  • Spinal Cord Dorsal Horn / metabolism
  • Spinal Cord Dorsal Horn / physiology*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Receptors, Neurokinin-1
  • Receptors, Somatostatin
  • somatostatin receptor sst2A
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Glycine