Neurokinin-1 receptor-immunoreactive sympathetic preganglionic neurons: target specificity and ultrastructure

I. J. Llewellyn-smith, C. L. Martin, J. B. Minson, P. M. Pilowsky, L. F. Arnolda, A. I. Basbaum, J. P. Chalmers

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26 Citations (Scopus)


Substance P is involved in cardiovascular control at the spinal cord level, where it acts through neurokinin-1 receptors. In this study we used immunocytochemistry and retrograde tracing to investigate the presence of the neurokinin-1 receptor and its ultrastructural localization in rat sympathetic preganglionic neurons that project to the superior cervical ganglion or the adrenal medulla. Immunofluorescence for the neurokinin-1 receptor outlined the somatic and dendritic surfaces of neurons in autonomic subnuclei of spinal cord segments T1–T12, whereas immunofluorescence for the tracer, cholera toxin B subunit, filled retrogradely labelled cells. There was a significant difference in the proportion of neurokinin-1 receptor-immunoreactive sympathetic preganglionic neurons supplying the superior cervical ganglion and the adrenal medulla. Thirty-eight percent of the neurons that projected to the superior cervical ganglion were immunoreactive for the neurokinin-1 receptor compared to 70% of neurons innervating the adrenal medulla. Of neurons projecting to the superior cervical ganglion, significantly different proportions showed neurokinin-1 receptor immunoreactivity in spinal cord segment T1 (15%) versus segments T2–T6 (45%). At the ultrastructural level, neurokinin-1 receptor staining occurred predominantly on the inner leaflets of the plasma membranes of retrogradely labelled sympathetic preganglionic neurons. Deposits of intracellular label were often observed in dendrites and in the rough endoplasmic reticulum and Golgi apparatus of cell bodies. Neurokinin-1 receptor immunoreactivity was present at many, but not all, synapses as well as at non-synaptic sites, and occurred at synapses with substance P-positive as well as substance P-negative nerve fibres. Only 37% of the substance P synapses occurred on neurokinin-1-immunoreactive neurons in the intermediolateral cell column. These results show that presence of the neurokinin-1 receptor in sympathetic preganglionic neurons is related to their target. The ultrastructural localization of the receptor suggests that sympathetic preganglionic neurons may be affected (i) by substance P released at neurokinin-1 receptor-immunoreactive synapses, (ii) by other tachykinins (e.g., neurokinin A), which co-localize in substance P fibres in the intermediolateral cell column, acting through other neurokinin receptors, and (iii) by substance P that diffuses to neurokinin-1 receptors from distant sites.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1137-1149
Number of pages13
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • blood pressure
  • substance P
  • intermediolateral cell column
  • immunocytochemistry
  • retrograde tracing
  • ultrastructure


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