Research Article| Volume 105, ISSUE 2, P90-100, May 30, 2003

Estrogen receptor expression in lumbosacral dorsal root ganglion cells innervating the female rat urinary bladder


      We have investigated whether bladder afferent neurons are likely to be targets for circulating estrogens by mapping estrogen receptor (ER) distribution in lumbosacral dorsal root ganglia (DRG) of adult female rats. Sensory neurons innervating either the detrusor or trigone regions were identified by application of fluorescent retrograde tracer dyes to the bladder wall. Labelled neurons were classified by their immunoreactivity for either type of ER (ERα or ERβ) and further compared with subpopulations of neurons containing substance P, calcitonin gene-related peptide and vanilloid receptor (a marker of polymodal nociceptors). Both ER types were expressed in numerous sensory neurons of either upper lumbar (L1/L2) or lower lumbar/sacral (L6/S1) ganglia and there was almost complete coexpression of ERα and ERβ. ER-positive neurons were mainly small–medium size (18–25-μm diameter), indicating that they may be nociceptors and/or supply visceral targets. Most bladder-projecting neurons expressed ERs and the majority of these also expressed neuropeptides or vanilloid receptor. Afferent neurons supplying detrusor and trigone regions had similar immunohistochemical features. About a third of the bladder-projecting neurons expressed both ER and vanilloid receptor, suggesting a mechanism by which estrogens could influence bladder pain. The prevalence of different chemical classes of ER-positive bladder-projecting neurons was reflected throughout the entire population of neurons in dorsal root ganglia of these spinal levels, suggesting that neurons supplying other pelvic visceral targets may have similar chemical profiles. These results suggest that many functional classes of sensory neurons innervating the lower urinary tract are likely to be targets for circulating estrogens, including many nociceptor neurons. The coexistence of ERα and ERβ suggests a broad range of potential mechanisms by which estrogens may exert their genomic effects in this system.


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