GABAergic neurons that contain neuropeptide Y selectively target cells with the neurokinin I receptor in laminae III and IV of the rat spinal cord

Erika Polgár, Safa A.S. Shehab, Christine Watt, Andrew J. Todd

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89 Citations (Scopus)


Neuropeptide Y (NPY) is contained in a population of GABAergic interneurons in the spinal dorsal horn and, when administered intrathecally, can produce analgesia. We previously identified a strong monosynaptic link between substance P-containing primary afferents and cells in lamina III or IV with the neurokinin 1 (NK1) receptor. Because some of these cells belong to the spinothalamic tract, they are likely to have an important role in pain mechanisms. In this study, we used confocal microscopy to examine the input to lamina III/IV NK1 receptor-immunoreactive neurons from NPY-containing axons. All of the cells studied received a dense innervation from NPY- immunoreactive axons, and electron microscopy revealed that synapses were often present at points of contact. Most NPY-immunoreactive boutons were also GABAergic, which supports the suggestion that they are derived from local neurons. The association between NPY-containing axons and NK1 receptor- immunoreactive neurons was specific, because postsynaptic dorsal column neurons (which were located in laminae III-V but did not possess NK1 receptors) and lamina I neurons with the NK1 receptor received significantly fewer contacts from NPY-immunoreactive axons. In addition, the NK1 receptor- immunoreactive lamina III/IV cells received few contacts from nitric oxide synthase-containing axons (which belong to a different population of GABAergic dorsal horn neurons). The NPY-containing axons appeared to be targeted to the NK1 receptor-immunoreactive neurons themselves rather than to their associated substance P-immunoreactive inputs. The dense innervation of these cells by NPY-containing axons suggests that they may possess receptors for NPY and that activation of these receptors may contribute to NPY-mediated analgesia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2637-2646
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Confocal microscopy
  • Electron microscopy
  • GABA
  • Neuropeptide Y
  • Substance P receptor
  • Volume transmission

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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