Substance P and opioid peptidergic innervation of the anterior eye segment of the rat: an immunohistochemical study

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Recently discovered endogenous opioid peptides such as nociceptin are known to modulate neurotransmitter release of primary afferent neurons (especially substance P, SP) and they have also been demonstrated in peripheral nerve fibres. The aim of this study was to investigate the opioid peptidergic innervation of the anterior eye segment and to compare it with the innervation pattern of SP in order to shed light on the functional relationship between these peptides. Anterior eye segments of 20 rat eyes were cut in a tangential plane and the sections stained with antibodies against SP, nociceptin, nocistatin, endomorphin 1 and 2, leu-enkephalin and met-enkephalin. Sections of the spinal cord or brain were used as positive controls. Numerous SP-immunoreactive nerve fibres were found in the conjunctiva, cornea, episclera, trabecular meshwork, iris and ciliary body. A weak staining for met-enkephalin and leu-enkephalin could only be found in the iris and anteriormost ciliary body. Nerve fibres immunoreactive for nociceptin, nocistatin, and endomorphin 1 or 2 could not be detected in any part of the anterior eye segment. It is tempting to speculate that the opioid peptidergic innervation of the anterior ciliary body may play a role in the modulation of intraocular inflammation.

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