Non-canonical heterogeneous cellular distribution and co-localization of CaMKIIα and CaMKIIβ in the spinal superficial dorsal horn

Brain Struct Funct. 2018 Apr;223(3):1437-1457. doi: 10.1007/s00429-017-1566-0. Epub 2017 Nov 18.


Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CaMKII) is a key enzyme in long-term plasticity in many neurons, including in the nociceptive circuitry of the spinal dorsal horn. However, although the role of CaMKII heterooligomers in neuronal plasticity is isoform-dependent, the distribution and co-localization of CaMKII isoforms in the dorsal horn have not been comprehensively investigated. Here, quantitative immunofluorescence analysis was used to examine the distribution of the two major neuronal CaMKII isoforms, α and β, in laminae I-III of the rat dorsal horn, with reference to inhibitory interneurons and neuronal populations defined by expression of parvalbumin, calretinin, and calbindin D28k. Unexpectedly, all or nearly all inhibitory and excitatory neurons showed both CaMKIIα and CaMKIIβ immunoreactivity, although at highly variable levels. Lamina III neurons showed less CaMKIIα immunoreactivity than laminae I-II neurons. Whereas CaMKIIα immunoreactivity was found at nearly similar levels in inhibitory and excitatory neurons, CaMKIIβ generally showed considerably lower immunoreactivity in inhibitory neurons. Distinct populations of inhibitory calretinin neurons and excitatory parvalbumin neurons exhibited high CaMKIIα-to-CaMKIIβ immunoreactivity ratios. CaMKIIα and CaMKIIβ immunoreactivity showed positive correlation at GluA2+ puncta in pepsin-treated tissue. These results suggest that, unlike the forebrain, the dorsal horn is characterized by similar expression of CaMKIIα in excitatory and inhibitory neurons, whereas CaMKIIβ is less expressed in inhibitory neurons. Moreover, CaMKII isoform expression varies considerably within and between neuronal populations defined by laminar location, calcium-binding protein expression, and transmitter phenotype, suggesting differences in CaMKII function both between and within neuronal populations in the superficial dorsal horn.

Keywords: Central sensitization; GABA; Pain; Pax2; Spinal cord.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calbindin 2 / metabolism
  • Calcium-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Calcium-Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinase Type 2 / genetics
  • Calcium-Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinase Type 2 / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics
  • Lectins / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microfilament Proteins / metabolism
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, AMPA / metabolism
  • Spinal Cord Dorsal Horn / cytology*
  • Spinal Cord Dorsal Horn / metabolism*
  • Synapses / metabolism


  • Aif1 protein, rat
  • Calbindin 2
  • Calcium-Binding Proteins
  • Lectins
  • Microfilament Proteins
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Receptors, AMPA
  • Calcium-Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinase Type 2
  • Camk2b protein, mouse
  • glutamate receptor ionotropic, AMPA 2