Differential Distribution of Metabotropic Glutamate Receptors 1a, 1b, and 5 in the Rat Spinal Cord

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Metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) modulate somatosensory, autonomic, and motor functions at spinal levels. mGluR postsynaptic actions over spinal neurons display the pharmacologic characteristics of type I mGluRs; however, the spinal distribution of type I mGluR isoforms remains poorly defined. In this study, the authors describe a differential distribution of immunoreactivity to various type I mGluR isoforms (mGluR1a, mGluR5a,b, and mGluR1b) that suggests a correlation between specific isoforms and particular aspects of spinal cord function. Two different antisera raised against mGluR5a,b detected intense immunoreactivity within nociceptive afferent terminal fields (laminae I and II) and also in autonomic regions (parasympathetic and sympathetic). In contrast, two of three anti-mGluR1a antibodies did not immunostain lamina I or II. Laminae I and II immunostaining by a third anti-mGluR1a antibody was competed by a peptide sequence obtained from a homologous region in mGluR5, suggesting possible cross reactivity in fixed tissue. Autonomic neurons did not express mGluR1a immunoreactivity. All anti-mGluR1a antibodies strongly and specifically immunolabeled dendritic and somatic membranes of neurons in the deep dorsal horn (lamina III–V) and the ventral horn (lamina VI–IX). Somatic motoneurons expressed mGluR1a immunoreactivity but little or no mGluR5 immunoreactivity. Phrenic and pudendal motoneurons expressed the highest level of mGluR1a immunoreactivity in the spinal cord. Intense mGluR1b immunoreactivity was restricted to a few scattered neurons and a prominent group of neurons in lamina X. Lamina II neurons expressed low levels of mGluR1b immunoreactivity. Ultrastructurally, type I mGluR immunoreactivity was found mostly at extrasynaptic sites on the plasma membrane, but it was also found perisynaptically, in the body of the postsynaptic regions or in relation to intracytoplasmic structures. J. Comp. Neurol. 422:464–487, 2000. © 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.