An electron microscopic study of terminals of rapidly adapting mechanoreceptive afferent fibers in the cat spinal cord

K. Semba, P. Masarachia, S. Malamed, M. Jacquin, S. Harris, G. Yang, M. D. Egger

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The intra‐axonal horseradish peroxidase technique was used to examine the central terminals of 7 Aβ primary afferent fibers from rapidly adapting (RA) mechanoreceptors in the glabrous skin of the cat's hindpaw. At the light microscopic level, labelled collaterals were seen to bear occasional boutonlike swellings, mostly (75–82%) of the en passant type. These swellings were distributed more or less uniformly from lamina III to a dorsal part of lamina VI in the dorsal horn, over a maximum longitudinal extent of about 4 mm. At the electron microscopic level, we observed that labelled boutons of RA afferent fibers were 1.0 to 3.3 μm in longest sectional dimension, and contained clear, round synaptic vesicles. They frequently formed asymmetric axospinous and axodendritic synapses and commonly appeared to receive contacts from unlabelled structures containing flattened or pleomorphic vesicles plus occasional large dense‐cored vesicles. The examination of synaptic connectivity over the entire surface of individual boutons indicated that RA afferent boutons each made contacts with an average of one spine and one dendrite and, in addition, appeared to be postsynaptic to an average of two unlabelled vesicle‐containing structures. This synaptic organization was, in general, more complex than that we had seen previously in Pacinian corpuscle (PC) and slowly adapting (SA) type I mechanoreceptive afferent fibers. Our findings indicate that RA, SA, and PC afferent terminals, while displaying some differential synaptic organizations, have many morphological and synaptological characteristics in common. These afferent terminals, in turn, seem to be generally distinguishable from the terminals of muscle spindle Ia afferents or unmyelinated primary afferents.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-240
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 8 1985


  • dorsal horn
  • glabrous skin
  • intra‐axonal HRP
  • primary afferents
  • synaptic connectivity


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