Neurotrophin receptor mRNA expression defines distinct populations of neurons in rat dorsal root ganglia

J Comp Neurol. 1995 Jan 16;351(3):329-38. doi: 10.1002/cne.903510302.


The biological actions of neurotrophins are mediated by specific neurotrophin receptor tyrosine kinases (Trks). A low-affinity nerve growth factor (NGF) receptor, p75, appears to modulate sensitivity to neurotrophins in some neuronal populations. It has been recently demonstrated that genes encoding members of the Trk family are expressed in distinct patterns in the dorsal root ganglia (DRG; Mu et al. [1993] (J. Neurosci. 13:4029- 4041). However, the extent to which different neurotrophin receptor genes are coexpressed by individual DRG neurons is unknown. The question of coexpression is important since the expression of more than one member of the trk family by DRG neurons would suggest the potential for regulation by multiple neurotrophins. To address this question, a combination of isotopic and colorimetric in situ hybridization was performed on rat thoracic DRG using riboprobes specific for trkA, trkB, trkC, and p75. We show here that neurons that express trkA are largely distinct from those that express trkC, although there is a small subpopulation that expresses both of these genes. We also show that there is a distinct population of DRG neurons that expresses trkB and does not coexpress either trkA or trkC. P75 is expressed in almost all neurons that express trkA or trkB, but is coexpressed in only 50% of trkC-expressing neurons. Importantly, p75 is not expressed in DRG neurons independent of trk expression. Finally, a subpopulation of DRG neurons does not express any of the neurotrophin receptor mRNAs. Our results demonstrate that there are distinct populations of DRG neurons that express each member of the neurotrophin receptor tyrosine kinase family. Our findings of extensive colocalization of p75 with trkA and trkB lend support to the idea that p75 is important in mediating the actions of NGF and brain-derived neurotrophic factor on DRG neurons. Interestingly, however, p75 expression is clearly unimportant for a subpopulation of neurons that require neurotrophin-3. The fact that p75 is not expressed in the absence of trkA, trkB, or trkC suggests that the function of p75 is closely related to functions of the known neurotrophin-receptor tyrosine kinases. Finally, our results suggest that a significant percentage of DRG neurons may be regulated by non-neurotrophin neuronal growth factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ganglia, Spinal / cytology
  • Ganglia, Spinal / metabolism*
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • RNA Probes
  • RNA, Messenger / biosynthesis*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Nerve Growth Factor / biosynthesis*
  • Sulfur Radioisotopes


  • RNA Probes
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Nerve Growth Factor
  • Sulfur Radioisotopes