Synaptic Interactions Between GABA-Immunoreactive Profiles and the Terminals of Functionally Defined Myelinated Nociceptors in the Monkey and Cat Spinal Cord

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This study analyzes the synaptic interactions between the central terminals of A delta high threshold mechanoreceptors (A delta HTMs) and GABA-immunoreactive profiles. A delta HTM primary afferents from three monkeys and one cat were electrophysiologically identified and intracellularly labeled with HRP, and their terminal arborizations in laminae I and II of the sacrocaudal spinal cord were studied at the ultrastructural level. GABA-immunoreactive profiles in relation to A delta HTM terminals were demonstrated using postembedding colloidal gold techniques. Monkey A delta HTM terminals (n = 131) usually constituted the central element of synaptic glomeruli; they established large asymmetric synaptic contacts with 1-13 dendrites (modal value 2- 4) and were surrounded by 0-6 peripheral axon terminals (modal value 2- 3). The large majority (around 85%) of the peripheral axon terminals were GABA immunoreactive. They were found presynaptic to the A delta HTM terminal and/or to dendrites postsynaptic to the primary afferent terminal. Furthermore, all peripheral axon terminals found presynaptic to the A delta HTM terminals showed GABA immunoreactivity. Within a single A delta HTM fiber, this synaptic arrangement was found in 20-60% of its boutons. In addition, 28% of the postsynaptic dendritic profiles displayed weak GABA immunoreactivity. Some of them contained vesicles; however, only in a few cases did we observe synapses between a GABA- immunoreactive vesicle-containing dendrite and a dendritic profile postsynaptic to an A delta HTM terminal. Similar synaptology and interactions with GABA-immunoreactive profiles were displayed by the terminals of the single cat A delta HTM fiber studied. Our data support the hypothesis that GABA-containing neurons use both presynaptic and/or postsynaptic mechanisms to exert a powerful control, presumably inhibitory, over the transmission of nociceptive information between A delta HTM afferents and second-order neurons in monkey and cat spinal cord. Our results also imply that GABA may be released within the synaptic glomeruli formed by A delta HTM terminals either by local dendrites or by axon terminals. We discuss the possibility that these GABAergic synapses can be driven by inputs from both primary afferents and/or descending systems to modulate the transmission of nociceptive sensory information.