GluR1 and GluR2 subunits of the alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionate (AMPA) receptor are expressed at high levels by neurones in laminae I-III of rat spinal dorsal horn, an area which contains numerous, densely packed small neurones. In order to determine whether these subunits are expressed by inhibitory or excitatory neurones, we combined pre-embedding immunocytochemistry with antibodies that recognize either GluR1, or an epitope common to GluR2 and 3, with postembedding detection of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glycine. Most (78%) of the neurones with GluR1-immunoreactivity were GABA-immunoreactive, and some of these were also glycine-immunoreactive, whereas nearly all (97%) of the GluR2/3-immunoreactive neurones were not GABA- or glycine-immunoreactive. We carried out double-immunofluorescence and confocal microscopy to provide further information on the neurochemistry of cells that express these subunits. As expected, all neurotensin- and virtually all somatostatin-immunoreactive cells (which are thought to be excitatory interneurones) were GluR2/3- but not GluR1-immunoreactive, whereas parvalbumin-containing cells (most of which are GABAergic) possessed GluR1-, but usually not GluR2/3-immunoreactivity. Neurones that contained nitric oxide synthase (most of which are GABAergic) were more variable, with 57% GluR1-immunoreactive and 41% GluR2/3-immunoreactive. Cholinergic neurones in lamina III (which are also GABAergic) invariably showed each type of GluR-immunoreactivity. These results suggest that neuronal populations in laminae I-III have characteristic patterns of GluR expression: GluR1 is particularly associated with inhibitory neurones, and GluR2 with excitatory neurones. This makes it likely that some of the AMPA receptors present on the inhibitory interneurones lack the GluR2 subunit, and may therefore have significant Ca2+-permeability.
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