Because the ultrastructure of the trigeminal sensory nerves in dentin, especially in relation to odontoblasts, remains to be clarified, we investigated the relationship between the trigeminal sensory nerves and the odontoblast processes using the anterograde axonal transport technique by injecting wheat germ agglutinin-horseradish peroxidase (WGA-HRP) into the rat trigeminal ganglion. Light microscopically, the nerves labeled with WGA-HRP were mainly concentrated at the pulpal horn, forming a nerve plexus at the subodontoblastic region and penetrating the predentin/dentin about 50 to 70 μm. Ultrastructurally, HRP reaction products were observed intraaxonally in the myelinated (Aδ) and unmyelinated (C) axons in the subodontoblastic region. Most nerves lost the Schwann sheath and were naked in the predentin/dentin. The labeled varicosities were close to the odontoblast processes in the dentinal tubules. No synaptic structures could be detected between the varicosities and the odontoblasts, but a gap about 20 nm wide was found between them. One type of varicosity was a rich mitochondria-containing varicosity, while the other was a rich vesicle-containing (large dense core vesicles and small clear vesicles) one. The reaction products were also found in the extracellular spaces surrounding the axons. Sometimes the reaction products were seen in the coated pits or the endocytotic vesicles of the odontoblast processes. The present study demonstrated that nerve endings (varicosities) derived from the trigeminal ganglion were present in the dentinal tubules, and that WGA-HRP extracellularly extruded from the sensory nerves in the odontoblastic layer or predentin/dentin. These findings thus suggest that sensory nerves may have some (e.g., trophic) effect on either odontoblasts or the environment around the sensory nerves in the dentin/pulp.
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