In vivo somatosensory stimuli evoked the release of substance P from primary afferent neurons that terminate in the spinal cord and stimulated endocytosis of substance P receptors in rat spinal cord neurons. The distal dendrites that showed substance P receptor internalization underwent morphological reorganization, changing from a tubular structure to one characterized by swollen varicosities connected by thin segments. This internalization and dendritic structural reorganization provided a specific image of neurons activated by substance P. Thus receptor internalization can drive reversible structural changes in central nervous system neurons in vivo. Both of these processes may be involved in neuronal plasticity.
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