Morphological classes of spinothalamic lamina I neurons in the cat

J Comp Neurol. 1996 Apr 15;367(4):537-49. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1096-9861(19960415)367:4<537::AID-CNE5>3.0.CO;2-5.


We examined the morphology and distribution of retrogradely labeled spinothalamic tract (STT) neurons in lamina I (the marginal zone) of the spinal dorsal horn after large injections of cholera toxin subunit B (CTb) or Fast Blue (FB) into the contralateral thalamus of cats. Based on the shape and orientation of the somata and proximal dendrites in horizontal sections, three distinct cell types were identified: (1) fusiform cells with small, spindle-shaped somata and bipolar, longitudinal dendritic arbors; (2) pyramidal cells with triangular somata and three main dendritic origins with primarily longitudinal arborizations; and (3) multipolar cells with larger, multiangular somata and four or more radiating dendritic arbors directed both longitudinally and mediolaterally. These three morphological types differed significantly in the number of primary dendrites and the size of the somata. Subclasses of multipolar cells were noted. Nearly all cells could be categorized into these three classes consistently in horizontal sections. A small number of cells with transitional shapes or with small, round somata were unclassified. The proportional distributions of these cell types were found to vary over the length of the spinal cord (from the third cervical through the coccygeal segments) in three cats. The overall proportions of cell types were 34% fusiform, 36% pyramidal, 25% multipolar, and 5% unclassified. The proportions of pyramidal and multipolar cells were strikingly higher within the C7-8 and L6-7 segments and lowest in the thoracic segments. In contrast, fusiform cells formed about 20% of the labeled lamina I STT population in the C7-8 and L6-7 segments but more than 60% in thoracic segments. Across all nine cats, the proportions were similar within the cervical (C5-8) and lumbosacral (L5-S1) enlargements, although considerable interanimal variability was noted. These distinct morphological types of lamina I STT cells with differential longitudinal distributions probably have different functional roles. They may correspond to the three main physiological classes of lamina I STT cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amidines
  • Animals
  • Cats
  • Cell Polarity / physiology
  • Cholera Toxin
  • Dendrites / physiology
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Histocytochemistry
  • Neural Pathways / cytology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / ultrastructure
  • Neurons / ultrastructure*
  • Pyramidal Cells / physiology
  • Pyramidal Cells / ultrastructure
  • Spinal Cord / cytology
  • Spinal Cord / physiology
  • Spinal Cord / ultrastructure*
  • Thalamus / cytology
  • Thalamus / physiology
  • Thalamus / ultrastructure*


  • Amidines
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • diamidino compound 253-50
  • Cholera Toxin