Trigeminal projections to contralateral dorsal horn: Central extent, peripheral origins, and plasticity

Mark F. Jacquin, Nicolas L. Chiaia, Robert W. Rhoadest

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Prior studies have documented a trigeminal (V) mandibular primary afferent projection to the dorsomedial portion of the contralateral medullary and cervical dorsal horns in cat, hamster, and rat. We now report the existence of a much more substantial V ophthalmic primary afferent projection to the ventrolateral portion of contralateral medullary and cervical dorsal horns in rat. Horseradish peroxidase (HRP) injections into the V ganglion or V brainstem complex anterogradely labeled a fascicle of primary afferent axons that exited the caudal ventrolateral V spinal tract to form a rostrocaudally continuous, transversely oriented, V primary afferent decussation. These fibers terminated most heavily in laminae III-V of the ventrolateral dorsal horn in contralateral caudal medulla and the first and second cervical segments. Retrograde tracing with diamidino yellow (DY) or fluorogold and anterograde tracing with Phaseolus vulgaris leucoagglutinin also demonstrated a substantial commissural projection of central origin in medullary dorsal horn laminae I-VII. The latter projection had a more diffuse trajectory and termination pattern than that of the V primary afferent decussation. Unilateral HRP injections into medullary and cervical dorsal horns also retrogradely labeled V primary afferent collaterals contralateral to the injection site in corresponding regions of dorsal horn, and also in ventromedial interpolaris, oralis, and principalis, rostral to their decussation. Axons (1.5 ± 0.8 μm mean diameter; 0.4-3.9 (μm range) therefore terminated both ipsi- and contralateral to their cells of origin. These HRP injections also labeled an average of 40.4 ± 13.0 V ganglion cells (mean ± SD, corrected for split somata) in dorsomedial, ophthalmic regions of the contralateral ganglion. Their mean diameter was slightly larger than that of cells labeled ipsilaterally (29.9 vs. 26.3 μm). Double-labeling studies assessed possible ophthalmic receptor surfaces innervated by centrally crossing primary afferents. DY was injected into right medullary and cervical dorsal horns, and HRP was applied to either the left cornea, the ethmoid nerve, or the dura overlying cerebral cortex. Though DY labeled from 75 to 125 left ganglion cells per animal, no cells were double-labeled. All of these findings suggest that nociceptive-specific ganglion cells are not a source of the crossed ophthalmic primary afferent projection. Unilateral transection of the infraorbital nerve on the day of birth did not alter the crossed primary afferent projection to the partially deafferented side of the brainstem. This is further evidence of an absence of central sprouting in spared V primary afferents following neonatal V deafferentation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-183
Number of pages31
JournalSomatosensory & Motor Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1990
Externally publishedYes


  • Cornea
  • Dorsal horn
  • Dura
  • Nasal mucosa
  • Pain
  • Plasticity
  • Trigeminal


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