RET (for "rearranged during transfection") is a transmembrane tyrosine kinase signaling receptor for members of the glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) family of ligands. We used RET immunohistochemistry (IHC), double-labeling immunofluorescence (IF), and in situ hybridization (ISH) in adult naïve and nerve-injured rats to study the distribution of RET in the spinal cord. In the dorsal horn, strong RET-immunoreactive (-ir) fibers were abundant in lamina II-inner (IIi), although this labeling was preferentially observed after an antigen-unmasking procedure. After dorsal rhizotomy, RET-ir fibers in lamina IIicompletely disappeared from the dorsal horn, indicating that they were all primary afferents. After peripheral axotomy, RET-ir in primary afferents decreased in lamina IIiand appeared to increase slightly in laminae III and IV. RET-ir was also observed in neurons and dendrites throughout the dorsal horn. Some RET-ir neurons in lamina I had the morphological appearance of nociceptive projection neurons, which was confirmed by the finding that 53% of RET-ir neurons in lamina I colocalized with neurokinin-1. GDNF-ir terminals were in close proximity to RET-ir neurons in the superficial dorsal horn. In the ventral horn, RET-ir was strongly expressed by motoneurons, with the strongest staining in small, presumably γ-motoneurons. Increased RET expression following peripheral axotomy was most pronounced in α-motoneurons. The expression and regulation pattern of RET in the spinal cord are in line with its involvement in regenerative processes following nerve injury. The presence of RET in dorsal horn neurons, including nociceptive projection neurons, suggests that RET also has a role in signal transduction at the spinal level. This role may include mediating the effects of GDNF released from nociceptive afferent fibers.

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The Journal of Comparative Neurology
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Jongen, J., Jaarsma, D., Hossaini, M., Natarajan, D., Haasdijk, E., & Holstege, J. (2007). Distribution of RET immunoreactivity in the rodent spinal cord and changes after nerve injury. The Journal of Comparative Neurology, 500(6), 1136–1153. doi:10.1002/cne.21234