Phenotypic distinctions between neural crest and placodal derived vagal C-fibres in mouse lungs


Corresponding author B. J. Undem: Johns Hopkins Allergy and Asthma Center, 5501 Hopkins Bayview Circle, Baltimore, MD 21224, USA.  Email:


Two major types of nociceptors have been described in dorsal root ganglia (DRGs). In comparison, little is known about the vagal nociceptor subtypes. The vagus nerves provide much of the capsaicin-sensitive nociceptive innervation to visceral tissues, and are likely to contribute to the overall pathophysiology of visceral inflammatory diseases. The cell bodies of these afferent nerves are located in the vagal sensory ganglia referred to as nodose and jugular ganglia. Neurons of the nodose ganglion are derived from the epibranchial placodes, whereas jugular ganglion neurons are derived from the neural crest. In the adult mouse, however, there is often only a single ganglionic structure situated alone in the vagus nerve. By employing Wnt1Cre/R26R mice, which express β-galactosidase only in neural crest derived neurons, we found that this single vagal sensory ganglion is a fused ganglion consisting of both neural crest neurons in the rostral portion and non-neural crest (nodose) neurons in the more central and caudal portions of the structure. Based on their activation and gene expression profiles, we identified two major vagal capsaicin-sensitive nociceptor phenotypes, which innervated a defined target, namely the lung in adult mice. One subtype is non-peptidergic, placodal in origin, expresses P2X2 and P2X3 receptors, responds to α,β-methylene ATP, and expresses TRKB, GFRα1 and RET. The other phenotype is derived from the cranial neural crest and does not express P2X2 receptors and fails to respond to α,β-methylene ATP. This population can be further subdivided into two phenotypes, a peptidergic TRKA+ and GFRα3+ subpopulation, and a non-peptidergic TRKB+ and GFRα1+ subpopulation. Consistent with their similar embryonic origin, the TRPV1 expressing neurons in the rostral dorsal root ganglia were more similar to jugular than nodose vagal neurons. The data support the hypothesis that vagal nociceptors innervating visceral tissues comprise at least two major subtypes. Due to distinctions in their gene expression profile, each type will respond to noxious or inflammatory conditions in their own unique manner.