Trigeminal primary afferents that express the transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) are important for the transmission of orofacial nociception. However, little is known about how the TRPV1-mediated nociceptive information is processed at the first relay nucleus in the central nervous system (CNS). To address this issue, we studied the synaptic connectivity of TRPV1-positive (+) terminals in the rat trigeminal caudal nucleus (Vc) by using electron microscopic immunohistochemistry and analysis of serial thin sections. Whereas the large majority of TRPV1+ terminals made synaptic contacts of an asymmetric type with one or two postsynaptic dendrites, a considerable fraction also participated in complex glomerular synaptic arrangements. A few TRPV1+ terminals received axoaxonic contacts from synaptic endings that contained pleomorphic synaptic vesicles and were immunolabeled for glutamic acid decarboxylase, the synthesizing enzyme for the inhibitory neurotransmitter c-aminobutyric acid (GABA). We classified the TRPV1+ terminals into an S-type, containing less than five dense-core vesicles (DCVs), and a DCV-type, containing five or more DCVs. The number of postsynaptic dendrites was similar between the two types of terminals; however, whereas axoaxonic contacts were frequent on the S-type, the DCV-type did not receive axoaxonic contacts. In the sensory root of the trigeminal ganglion, TRPV1+ axons were mostly unmyelinated, and a small fraction was small myelinated. These results suggest that the TRPV1-mediated nociceptive information from the orofacial region is processed in a specific manner by two distinct types of synaptic arrangements in the Vc, and that the central input of a few TRPV1+ afferents is presynaptically modulated via a GABA-mediated mechanism.
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