Ultrastructural analysis of NMDA, AMPA, and kainate receptors on unmyelinated and myelinated axons in the periphery

J Comp Neurol. 1998 Feb 2;391(1):78-86. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1096-9861(19980202)391:1<78::aid-cne7>3.3.co;2-8.


The present study determines the proportions of unmyelinated cutaneous axons at the dermal-epidermal junction in glabrous skin and of myelinated and unmyelinated axons in the sural and medial plantar nerves that immunostain for subunits of the ionotropic glutamate receptors. Approximately 20% of the unmyelinated cutaneous axon profiles at the dermal-epidermal junction immunostain for either N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA), alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA), or kainate receptor subunits. These findings are consistent with previous observations that NMDA and non-NMDA antagonists ameliorate nociceptive behaviors that result from noxious peripheral stimulation. In the sural nerve, where the large majority of myelinated fibers are sensory, approximately half of the myelinated axon profiles immunostain for the NMDA receptor 1 (R1) subunit, 28% immunostain for the glutamate receptor 1 (GluR1) AMPA subunit, and 11% for the GluR5,6,7 kainate subunits. Even higher proportions immunostain for these receptors in the medial plantar nerve, a mixed sensory and motor nerve. In the sural nerve, 20% of the unmyelinated axon profiles immunostain for NMDAR1 and only 7% label for GluR1 or GluR5,6,7. Because the sural nerve innervates hairy skin, these data suggest that glutamate will activate a higher proportion of unmyelinated axons in glabrous skin than in hairy skin. Measurements of fiber diameters indicate that all sizes of myelinated axon profiles, including Adelta and Abeta, are positively labeled for the ionotropic receptors. The presence of glutamate receptors on large-diameter myelinated axons suggests that these mechanosensitive receptors, presumably transducing touch and pressure, may also respond to local glutamate and thus be chemosensitive.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Epidermis / innervation
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Myelin Sheath / physiology*
  • Peripheral Nervous System / physiology*
  • Peripheral Nervous System / ultrastructure
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, AMPA / ultrastructure*
  • Receptors, Kainic Acid / ultrastructure*
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / ultrastructure*
  • Skin / innervation


  • Receptors, AMPA
  • Receptors, Kainic Acid
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate