The dentin-pulp complex is a peripheral end-organ supplied by dense sensory nerve fibers. Substance P, a representative neuropeptide widely distributed in the dental pulp, has been reported to play roles in pain transmission and the amplification of inflammation. We analyzed here the expression of the neurokinin 1 (NK1) receptor, preferentially activated by substance P, using immunocytochemistry in rat dental pulp at both the light and electron microscopic levels. Conspicuous NK1 receptor immunoreactivity was found in the odontoblasts; immunolabelings were present at their plasma membrane and endosomal structures, especially in their cytoplasmic processes. Immunoreactions for NK1 receptor were also detectable in a part of the nerve terminals associated with the cytoplasmic processes of the odontoblasts. Furthermore, the endothelial cells of capillaries and post-capillary venules and the fibroblasts were labeled with the NK1 receptor in the subodontoblast layer. These findings suggest that pulpal cells and nerve fibers are targets for substance P that mediate multiple functions, including a vasoactive function and the regulation of vascular permeability as well as the modulation of pain transmission.
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