Peripheral sensory neurons are characterized by their size, molecular profiles, and physiological responses to specific stimuli. In mouse, the peptidergic and non-peptidergic subsets of nociceptors are distinct and innervate different lamina of the spinal dorsal horn. The unique molecular signature and neuroanatomical organization of these neurons supports a labeled line theory for certain types of nociceptive stimuli. However, long standing evidence supports the polymodal nature of nociceptors in many species. We have recently shown that the peptidergic marker, CGRP, and the non-peptidergic marker, P2X3R, show largely overlapping expression at the mRNA level in human dorsal root ganglion (DRG). Herein, our aim was to assess the protein distribution of nociceptor markers, including their central projections, in the human DRG and spinal cord. Using DRGs obtained from organ donors, we observed that CGRP and P2X3R were co-expressed by approximately 33% of human DRG neurons and TrpV1 was expressed in ~60% of human DRG neurons. In the dorsal spinal cord, CGRP, P2X3R, TrpV1 and Nav1.7 protein stained the entirety of lamina II, with only P2XR3 showing a gradient of expression. This was confirmed by measuring the size of the substantia gelatinosa using Hematoxylin and Eosin staining of adjacent sections. Our findings are consistent with the known polymodal nature of most primate nociceptors and indicate that the central projection patterns of nociceptors are different between mice and humans. Elucidating how human nociceptors connect to subsets of dorsal horn neurons will be important for understanding the physiological consequences of these species differences.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience