Sensory innervation of periodontal ligament of rat molars consists of unencapsulated Ruffini-like mechanoreceptors and free nerve endings


  • Margaret R. Byers

    1. Departments of Anesthesiology and Biological Structure and Center for Research in Oral Biology, University of Washington RN-10, Seattle, Washington 98195
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The trigeminal ganglion (TG) of adult rats was injected with 3H-amino acids to label periodontal receptors by axonal transport; 20–24 hours after injection, samples of molar ligament were prepared for autoradiography and electron microscopy. Four types of neurites labeled from TG were found in the avascular ligament fiber regions: (1) large, complex, Ruffini-like endings, lacking a capsule, but with finger extensions touching ligament collagen; (2) smaller Ruffini-like endings, lacking a capsule and neural fingers; (3) free bundles of unmyelinated axons; and (4) free, small, myelinated axons. The vascular channels plus associated loose connective tissue that perforate the ligament contained labeled preterminal ensheathed axons, small Ruffini endings, and free unmyelinated or small myelinated axons. The incidence of labeled endings was about 5 × greater next to the lower third of the root than in the upper two-thirds or beneath the root The TG myelinated axons (diameter range 2–15 μm) entered the ligament in sheathed nerve bundles; these branched to form numerous small preterminal axons that were surrounded by a periaxonal fluid space and a perineurial sheath. Terminal axons branched from nodes of Ranvier, left the preterminal chamber, and followed an extended branching course through the collagen fibers. Large, complex Ruffini-like endings had numerous mitochondria and were partially covered by special lamellar Schwann cells and complex basal lamina; vesicles and multivesicular bodies were found near exposed regions of the receptor. Smaller Ruffini-like endings lacked neural fingers and had a simpler structure and less elaborate Schwann cells. The structure of Ruffini-like endings was highly varied; thus a structural continuum may exist from the largest, most complex to the smallest, simplest Ruffini-like receptor. The TG unmyelinated axons entered the ligament in ensheathed bundles; they then branched into free bundles that were found in the avascular ligament or near blood vessels. No encapsulated receptors were found.