Dual ultrastructural localization of μ-opiate receptors and substance P in the dorsal horn

Sue A. Aicher, Sarita Sharma, Peter Y. Cheng, Lee Yuan Liu-Chen, Virginia M. Pickel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Opiates active at the μ-opiate receptor (MOR) produce antinociception, in part, through actions involving substance P (SP), a peptide present in both unmyelinated primary afferents and interneurons within the dorsal horn. We examined potential functional sites for interactions between SP and MOR by using dual electron microscopic immunocytochemical localization of antisera against SP and a sequence-specific antipeptide antibody against MOR in rat cervical spinal dorsal horn. The distribution was compared with that of the functionally analogous dorsal horn of the trigeminal nucleus caudalis. Many of the SP-immunoreactive terminals in the dorsal horn contacted dendrites that contain MOR (53% in trigeminal; 70% in cervical spinal cord). Conversely, within the cervical spinal dorsal horn 79% of the MOR-labeled dendrites that received any afferent input were contacted by at least one SP- containing axon or terminal. Although SP-immunoreactive dendrites were rare, many of these (48%) contained MOR, suggesting that the activity of SP- containing spinal interneurons may be regulated by MOR ligands. A few SP- labeled terminals also contained MOR (12% in trigeminal; 6% in cervical spinal cord). These data support the idea that MOR ligands produce antinociception primarily through modulation of postsynaptic second-order nociceptive neurons in the dorsal horns of spinal cord and spinal trigeminal nuclei, some of which contain SP. They also suggest, however, that in each region, MOR agonists can act presynaptically to control the release of SP and/or glutamate from afferent terminals. The post- and presynaptic MOR sites are likely to account for the potency of MOR agonists as analgesics. (C) 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12-20
Number of pages9
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Analgesia
  • Electron microscopy
  • Neuropeptide
  • Pain
  • Spinal cord
  • Trigeminal nucleus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Dual ultrastructural localization of μ-opiate receptors and substance P in the dorsal horn'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this