Corneal sensory pathway in the rat: A horseradish peroxidase tracing study

Carl F. Marfurt, David R. Del Toro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

127 Scopus citations


The methods of transganglionic transport of horseradish peroxidase (HRP) and horseradish peroxidase-wheat germ agglutinin (HRP-WGA) were used to determine the location within the trigeminal ganglion of the primary afferent neurons that innervate the rat central cornea, and the brainstem and spinal cord termination sites of these cells. In each of 18 animals, solutions of HRP or HRP-WGA were applied to the scarified corneal surface and allowed to infiltrate into the corneal epithelium and stroma for 15 minutes. Postmortem examination of the corneal whole mounts from the experimental animals, and of corneas and neural tissues from several control animals, showed that the HRP/HRP-WGA remained confined to the central cornea with no spread into adjacent intra- or extraorbital tissues. HRP-labeled corneal afferent somata were located in the dorsal part of the ophthalmic region of the ipsilateral trigeminal ganglion. The central fibers of the corneal afferent neurons projected very heavily to interstitial nuclei of Cajal in the spinal tract of V at the level of caudal pars interpolaris and rostral pars caudalis, lightly to the pars caudalis/C1 transition zone, and sparsely to the dorsal horn of spinal cord segments C1-C3. The trigeminal main sensory nucleus, pars oralis, the rostral three-fourths of pars interpolaris, and an extensive midregion of pars caudalis were totally devoid of reaction product. Terminal fields in caudal pars caudalis and in the spinal cord dorsal horn were concentrated largerly in the outer half of lamina II, with lesser accumulations in lamina I, the deeper half of lamina II, and in lamina III. The present study demonstrates for the first time by means of an anatomical tracing procedure the brainstem termination sites of corneal afferent neurons in the rat. The patchy, discontinuous nature of the corneal afferent projection to the caudal trigeminal brainstem nuclear complex (TBNC), and the total lack of corneal projections to rostral subdivisions of the TBNC, provide an exception to the general rule of trigeminal organization in which most areas of the head and face are represented as continuous columns throughout the rostrocaudal extent of the ipsilateral TBNC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)450-459
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 15 1987


  • HRP‐WGA transganglionic transport
  • corneal innervation
  • orofacial pain pathways
  • trigeminal ganglion
  • trigeminal nuclear complex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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