Sensory and electrophysiological properties of guinea-pig sensory neurones expressing Nav 1.7 (PN1) Na+ channel α subunit protein


Corresponding author S. N. Lawson: Department of Physiology, School of Medical Sciences, University Walk, Bristol BS8 1TD, UK. Email:


The TTX-sensitive Nav1.7 (PN1) Na+ channel α subunit protein is expressed mainly in small dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurones. This study examines immunocytochemically whether it is expressed exclusively or preferentially in nociceptive primary afferent DRG neurones, and determines the electrophysiological properties of neurones that express it. Intracellular somatic action potentials (APs) evoked by dorsal root stimulation were recorded in L6/S1 DRG neurones at 30 ± 2 °C in vivo in deeply anaesthetised young guinea-pigs. Each neurone was classified, from its dorsal root conduction velocity (CV) as a C-, Aδ- or Aα/β-fibre unit and from its response to mechanical and thermal stimuli, as a nociceptive, low threshold mechanoreceptive (LTM) or unresponsive unit. Fluorescent dye was injected into the soma and Nav1.7-like immunoreactivity (Nav1.7-LI) was examined on sections of dye-injected neurones. All C-, 90 % of Aδ- and 40 % of Aα/β-fibre units, including both nociceptive and LTM units, showed Nav1.7-LI. Positive units included 1/1 C-LTM, 6/6 C-nociceptive, 4/4 C-unresponsive (possible silent nociceptive) units, 5/6 Aδ-LTM (D hair), 13/14 Aδ-nociceptive, 2/9 Aα/β-nociceptive, 10/18 Aα/β-LTM cutaneous and 0/9 Aα/β-muscle spindle afferent units. Overall, a higher proportion of nociceptive than of LTM neurones was positive, and the median relative staining intensity was greater in nociceptive than LTM units. Nav1.7-LI intensity was clearly positively correlated with AP duration and (less strongly) negatively correlated with CV and soma size. Since nociceptive units tend overall to have longer duration APs, slower CVs and smaller somata, these correlations may be related to the generally greater expression of Nav1.7 in nociceptive units.