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Functional segregation within the pelvic nerve of male rats: a meso- and microscopic analysis

Bertrand, MM;Korajkic, N;Osborne, PB;Keast, JR;

The pelvic splanchnic nerves are essential for pelvic organ function and have been proposed as targets for neuromodulation. We have focused on the rodent homologue of these nerves, the pelvic nerves. Our goal was to define within the pelvic nerve the projections of organ-specific sensory axons labelled by microinjection of neural tracer (cholera toxin, subunit B) into the bladder, urethra or rectum. We also examined the location of peptidergic sensory axons within the pelvic nerves to determine whether they aggregated separately from sacral preganglionic and paravertebral sympathetic postganglionic axons travelling in the same nerve. To address these aims, microscopy was performed on the major pelvic ganglion (MPG) with attached pelvic nerves, microdissected from young adult male Sprague-Dawley rats (6-8weeks old) and processed as whole mounts for fluorescence immunohistochemistry. The pelvic nerves were typically composed of five discrete fascicles. Each fascicle contained peptidergic sensory, cholinergic preganglionic and noradrenergic postganglionic axons. Sensory axons innervating the lower urinary tract (LUT) consistently projected in specific fascicles within the pelvic nerves, whereas sensory axons innervating the rectum projected in a complementary group of fascicles. These discrete aggregations of organ-specific sensory projections could be followed along the full length of the pelvic nerves. From the junction of the pelvic nerve with the MPG, sensory axons immunoreactive for calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) showed several distinct patterns of projection: some projected directly to the cavernous nerve, others projected directly across the surface of the MPG to the accessory nerves and a third class entered the MPG, encircling specific cholinergic neurons projecting to the LUT. A subpopulation of preganglionic inputs to noradrenergic MPG neurons also showed CGRP immunoreactivity. Together, these studies reveal new molecular and structural features of the pelvic nerves and suggest functional targets of sensory nerves in the MPG. These anatomical data will facilitate the design of experimental bioengineering strategies to specifically modulate each axon class.