In patients with irritable bowel syndrome, visceral pain is evoked more readily following distension of the colorectum. However, the identity of extrinsic afferent nerve pathway that detects and transmits visceral pain from the colorectum to the spinal cord is unclear. In this study, we identified which extrinsic nerve pathway(s) underlies nociception from the colorectum to the spinal cord of rodents. Electromyogram recordings were made from the transverse oblique abdominal muscles in anesthetized wild type (C57BL/6) mice and acute noxious intraluminal distension stimuli (100-120 mmHg) were applied to the terminal 15 mm of colorectum to activate visceromotor responses (VMRs). Lesioning the lumbar colonic nerves in vivo had no detectable effect on the VMRs evoked by colorectal distension. Also, lesions applied to the right or left hypogastric nerves failed to reduce VMRs. However, lesions applied to both left and right branches of the rectal nerves abolished VMRs, regardless of whether the lumbar colonic or hypogastric nerves were severed. Electrical stimulation applied to either the lumbar colonic or hypogastric nerves in vivo, failed to elicit a VMR. In contrast, electrical stimulation (2-5 Hz, 0.4 ms, 60 V) applied to the rectum reliably elicited VMRs, which were abolished by selective lesioning of the rectal nerves. DiI retrograde labeling from the colorectum (injection sites 9-15 mm from the anus, measured in unstretched preparations) labeled sensory neurons primarily in dorsal root ganglia (DRG) of the lumbosacral region of the spinal cord (L6-S1). In contrast, injection of DiI into the mid to proximal colon (injection sites 30-75 mm from the anus, measured in unstretched preparations) labeled sensory neurons in DRG primarily of the lower thoracic level (T6-L2) of the spinal cord. The visceral pain pathway activated by acute noxious distension of the terminal 15 mm of mouse colorectum is transmitted predominantly, if not solely, through rectal/pelvic afferent nerve fibers to the spinal cord. The sensory neurons of this spinal afferent pathway lie primarily in the lumbosacral region of the spinal cord, between L6 and S1.
- Sensory neuron