Widespread projections from myelinated nociceptors throughout the substantia gelatinosa provide novel insights into neonatal hypersensitivity.
In the rodent, cutaneous sensory neurons mature over the first two postnatal weeks, both in terms of their electrical properties and their responses to mechanical stimulation of the skin. To examine the coincidence of these events, intracellular recordings were made from neurons in the dorsal root ganglion (DRG) in an in vitro spinal cord, DRG, and skin preparation from mice between the ages of postnatal day 0 and 5 (P0-P5). We also examined mice in which nerve growth factor (NGF) is overexpressed in the skin. NGF has been shown to be involved in a number of aspects of sensory neuron development and function. Therefore we ask here whether excess target-derived NGF will alter the normal course of development, either of somal membrane properties, physiological response properties, or neuropeptide content. In wild-type mice, somal action potentials (APs) were heterogeneous, with some having simple, uninflected falling phases and some displaying an inflection or break on the falling limb. The proportion of neurons lacking an inflection increased with increasing age, as did mean conduction velocity. A variety of rapidly and slowly adapting responses could be obtained by gently probing the skin; however, due to relatively low thresholds and firing frequencies, as well as lack of mature peripheral receptors such as hairs, it was not possible to place afferents into the same categories as in the adult. No correlation was seen between the presence or absence of an inflection on the somal AP (a marker for high-threshold mechanoreceptors in adult animals) and either peripheral threshold or calcitonin-gene related peptide (CGRP) content. Small differences in the duration and amplitude of the somal AP were seen in the NGF-overexpressing mice that disappeared by P3-P5. Excess target-derived NGF did not alter physiological response properties or the types of neurons containing CGRP. The changes that did occur, including a loss of the normal relationship between AP duration and conduction velocity, and a decrease in mean conduction velocity in the inflected population, might best be explained by an increase in the relative proportions of myelinated nociceptors. Of greatest interest was the finding that in both NGF overexpressers and wild-type mice, the correlation between mechanical threshold and presence or absence of an inflection on the somal spike is not apparent by P5.