The present study tested the hypothesis that the trigeminal (V) primary afferent projection to the contralateral dorsal horn originates in midline hairy skin. A prior study (Jacquin et al., 1990) showed that this crossed projection is heaviest to ophthalmic regions of medullary and cervical dorsal horns, and that it does not arise from V ganglion cells that innervate cornea, nasal mucosa, or cerebral dura mater. Here, retrograde double-labeling methods were used to show that many ophthalmic ganglion cells that innervate midline hairy skin via the supraorbital nerve project to the contralateral medullary and upper cervical dorsal horns. Diamidino yellow injections into the right dorsal horn labeled an average of 104 cells in the left V ganglion. Of these contralaterally projecting ganglion cells, an average of 45% were also labeled by horseradish peroxidase (HRP) injections into the left supraorbital nerve, and 25% were also labeled by HRP injections into the midline opthalmic hairy skin. However, only 2% were labeled by HRP injections restricted to left supraorbital vibrissae follicle nerves. Almost all of the double-labeled cells were located in the dorsal one-half of the V ganglion, and they did not differ in size from single-labeled cells. On the basis of these and prior data, we conclude that a high percentage of contralaterally projecting V ganglion cells originate in midline hairy skin. It is also likely that the contralaterally projecting V ganglion cells serve a low-threshold mechanoreceptive function, given the relatively large ganglion cells and axons giving rise to this pathway and their central terminations in dorsal horn laminae III-V.
- Dorsal horn