The distribution of the neuropeptide calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) was studied in relation to the known subcortical somatosensory pathways and contiguous systems in the central nervous system (CNS) of rats by using peroxidase histochemical methods in order to relate zones of immunoreactivity (IR) to cytoarchitecture. CGRP is the most ubiquitous peptide found to date in sensory ganglion cells: principally small and medium-size neurons emitting thin axons inferred to be largely nociceptive in function on the basis of the peripheral distribution of their terminals. Its apparent absence in sympathetic axons provides an especially useful sensory marker.
The distribution of CGRP-IR axons displays remarkable selectivity at each level of the CNS. The trigeminal root distributes axons primarily to the pericornual layers (laminae I and II) of spinal V nucleus caudalis and to subnucleus oralis, evading the subnucleus interpolaris and contributing only few axons to principal V. Although there are only a few CGRP-IR somata at each level, heavily labeled axon trajectories can be traced to the nuclei of the solitary tract, the parabrachial nuclei, several sectors of the caudal medial thalamus, and the central nucleus of the amygdala. A sector of labeled neuron somata lies contiguous to each of these axon terminal zones, the largest of which is a thalamic nucleus containing cells of distinctive dendritic architecture extending from the periaqueductal gray across the posterior group nuclei to the peripeduncular nucleus, forming a linear array at the mesodiencephalic junction.
The relation of CGRP-IR axonal distribution to spinothalamic, visceral, and gustatory systems is discussed in the context of a specialized „chemosensory” component of the thin-fiber somatosensory system.