Evidence for Glutamate as Neurotransmitter in Trigemino- and Spinothalamic Tract Terminals in the Nucleus Submedius of Cats


Correspondence to: Ann-Charlott Ericson, as above


The nucleus submedius in the medial thalamus of cats is an important termination site for lamina I trigemino- and spinothalamic tract (TSTT) neurons, many of which are nociceptive-specific, and the nucleus submedius has been proposed to be a dedicated nociceptive substrate involved in the affective aspect of pain. In the present study, the distribution of glutamate was examined by immunocytochemical methods in order to evaluate the possible role of this amino acid as a neurotransmitter in TSTT terminals in the nucleus submedius. TSTT terminals were identified by anterograde transport of horseradish peroxidase and wheatgerm agglutinin-horseradish peroxidase conjugate from the spinal cord or the medullary dorsal horn. Quantitative analysis of immunogold labelling revealed that TSTT terminals contain about twice the tissue average of glutamate-like immunoreactivity. A strong positive correlation was found between the density of synaptic vesicles and the density of gold particles in these terminals, whereas no relationship was seen between these variables in GABAergic presynaptic dendrites. Enrichment of glutamate-like immunoreactivity (∼250% of the tissue average) was also observed in terminals of presumed cortical origin. Presynaptic dendrites and neuron cell bodies in the nucleus submedius were found to contain relatively low levels of glutamate-like immunoreactivity, at or below the tissue average. These observations provide evidence that glutamate is a neurotransmitter in lamina I TSTT terminals in the nucleus submedius. The findings also suggest glutamatergic neurotransmission between cortical afferents and nucleus submedius neurons. Glutamate is therefore likely to be an important mediator of nociceptive processing in the medial thalamus.