Descending projections from the rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM) to trigeminal and spinal dorsal horns are morphologically and neurochemically distinct

Sue A. Aicher, Sam M. Hermes, Kelsey L. Whittier, Deborah M. Hegarty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

27 Scopus citations


Neurons in the rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM) are thought to modulate nociceptive transmission via projections to spinal and trigeminal dorsal horns. The cellular substrate for this descending modulation has been studied with regard to projections to spinal dorsal horn, but studies of the projections to trigeminal dorsal horn have been less complete. In this study, we combined anterograde tracing from RVM with immunocytochemical detection of the GABAergic synthetic enzyme, GAD67, to determine if the RVM sends inhibitory projections to trigeminal dorsal horn. We also examined the neuronal targets of this projection using immunocytochemical detection of NeuN. Finally, we used electron microscopy to verify cellular targets. We compared projections to both trigeminal and spinal dorsal horns. We found that RVM projections to both trigeminal and spinal dorsal horn were directed to postsynaptic profiles in the dorsal horn, including somata and dendrites, and not to primary afferent terminals. We found that RVM projections to spinal dorsal horn were more likely to contact neuronal somata and were more likely to contain GAD67 than projections from RVM to trigeminal dorsal horn. These findings suggest that RVM neurons send predominantly GABAergic projections to spinal dorsal horn and provide direct input to postsynaptic neurons such as interneurons or ascending projection neurons. The RVM projection to trigeminal dorsal horn is more heavily targeted to dendrites and is only modestly GABAergic in nature. These anatomical features may underlie differences between trigeminal and spinal dorsal horns with regard to the degree of inhibition or facilitation evoked by RVM stimulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)103-111
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Chemical Neuroanatomy
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2012



  • Confocal microscopy
  • Descending modulation
  • Electron microscopy
  • GABA
  • GAD67

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

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