In order to determine which types of spinal neuron produce c-fos in response to noxious stimulation, we have combined pre-embedding detection of c-fos-like immunoreactivity with post-embedding immunocytochemistry using antibodies against GABA and glycine, 2 h after subcutaneous injection of formalin into a hindpaw of anaesthetized rats. Throughout the spinal cord, the majority of c-fos-immunoreactive neurons (72-81%) did not possess GABA- or glycine-like immunoreactivity, while the remaining cells contained one or both types of immunoreactivity. In the superficial dorsal horn (laminae I and II) and dorsal white matter, between 14 and 20% of c-fos-immunoreactive neurons were GABA-immunoreactive, and some of these were also glycine-immunoreactive. A single neuron in lamina I in one animal was glycine- but not GABA-immunoreactive. In the remainder of the spinal cord, between 21 and 35% of the c-fos-immunoreactive cells were GABA- or glycine-immunoreactive, and the majority of these neurons contained both types of immunoreactivity. These results suggest that some inhibitory neurons in both the superficial and deep parts of the dorsal horn are activated by noxious stimuli. It is known that some of the cells which produce c-fos in response to noxious stimulation are projection neurons, with axons ascending to the brainstem or thalamus, however, because of the large number of c-fos-immunoreactive cells in the dorsal horn, it is likely that many are interneurons, and some of these are probably excitatory cells which use glutamate as a transmitter. It therefore appears that after noxious stimulation c-fos is produced in several types of spinal neuron, including projection cells and both excitatory and inhibitory interneurons.
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