Although dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons have been so far classified according to the difference in their fibers (Aβ, Aδ, and C), this classification should be further subdivided according to gene expression patterns. We focused on oxytocin (OXT) and its related receptors, because OXT plays a local role in DRG neurons. We measured the mRNA levels of OXT, OXT receptor (OXTR), vasopressin V1a receptor (V1aR), transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily V member 1 (TRPV1), and piezo-type mechanosensitive ion channel component 2 (Piezo2) in single DRG neurons by using real-time PCR, and then performed a cluster analysis. According to the gene expression patterns, DRG neurons were classified into 4 clusters: Cluster 1 was characterized mainly by Piezo2, Cluster 2 by TRPV1, Cluster 4 by OXTR, and neurons in Cluster 3 did not express any of the target genes. The cell body diameter of OXT-expressing neurons was significantly larger in Cluster 1 than in Cluster 2. These results suggest that OXT-expressing DRG neurons with small cell bodies (Cluster 2) and large cell bodies (Cluster 1) probably correspond to C-fiber neurons and Aβ-fiber neurons, respectively. Furthermore, the OXT-expressing neurons contained not only TRPV1 but also Piezo2, suggesting that OXT may be released by mechanical stimulation regardless of nociception. Thus, mechanoreception and nociception themselves may induce the autocrine/paracrine function of OXT in the DRG, contributing to alleviation of pain.
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