Vanilloid receptor (VR1) expression in vagal afferent neurons innervating the gastrointestinal tract
Mechano- and chemosensitive extrinsic primary afferents innervating the gastrointestinal tract convey important information regarding the state of ingested nutrients and specific motor patterns to the central nervous system via splanchnic and vagal nerves. Little is known about the organization of peripheral receptive sites of afferents and their correspondence to morphologically identified terminal structures. Mechano- and chemosensory characteristics and receptive fields of single vagal fibers innervating the stomach as well as lumbar splanchnic nerves innervating the distal colon were identified using an in vitro perifusion system. Twenty-three (17%) of one-hundred thirty-six vagal units identified were found to have multiple, punctate receptive fields, up to 35 mm apart, and were distributed throughout the stomach. Evidence was based on similarity of generated spike forms, occlusion, and latency determinations. Most responded with brief bursts of activity to mucosal stroking with von Frey hairs (10-200 mg) but not to stretch, and 32% responded to capsaicin (10(-5) M). They were classified as rapidly adapting mucosal receptors. Four (8%) of fifty-three single units recorded from the lumbar splanchnic nerve had more than one, punctate receptive field in the distal colon, up to 40 mm apart. They responded to blunt probing, particularly from the serosal side, and variously to chemical stimulation with 5-hydroxytryptamine and capsaicin. We conclude that a proportion of gastrointestinal mechanosensors has multiple receptive fields and suggest that they integrate mechanical and chemical information from an entire organ, constituting the generalists in visceral sensation.