• green fluorescent protein-glutamic acid decarboxylase 65 transgenic mouse;
  • nociceptive primary afferents;
  • pain transmission;
  • presynaptic ion channel


We have previously demonstrated that hyperpolarization-activated and cyclic nucleotide-gated cation channel subunit 2 (HCN2) is expressed by terminals of peptidergic nociceptive primary afferents in laminae I–IIo of the rat spinal dorsal horn. In this study, we investigated the possible neurotransmitters and postsynaptic targets of these HCN2-expressing primary afferent terminals in the superficial spinal dorsal horn by using immunocytochemical methods. We demonstrated that HCN2 widely colocalizes with substance P (SP), and that HCN2-positive terminals that are also immunoreactive for SP form serial close appositions with dendrites and perikarya of neurokinin 1 receptor-immunoreactive neurons. It was also found that HCN2-immunoreactive terminals are frequently apposed to neurons that are immunoreactive for calbindin, µ-opioid receptor and the α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methylisoxazole-4-propionate receptor subunit GluR2, markers for excitatory interneurons. Investigating HCN2 immunoreactivity in glutamic acid decarboxylase 65-green fluorescent protein transgenic mice, we found that HCN2-positive terminals occasionally also contact cells that contain an isoform of glutamic acid decarboxylase (glutamic acid decarboxylase 65), a marker for GABAergic inhibitory neurons. Application of ZD7288, an antagonist of HCN channels, onto neurons that were recorded in spinal cord slices with whole-cell patch-clamp electrodes reduced the number of monosynaptic excitatory postsynaptic potentials evoked by electrical stimulation of primary afferents at nociceptive intensities. The results suggest that HCN2 may contribute to the modulation of membrane excitability of SP-containing nociceptive primary afferent terminals, may increase the reliability of synaptic transmission from primary afferents to secondary sensory neurons and thus may play a role in the fine-tuning of pain transmission from nociceptive primary afferents to neurons in the spinal dorsal horn.