The density and distribution of substance P-like immunoreactive (SP-LI) and calcitonin gene-related peptide-like immunoreactive (CGRP-LI) nerve fibers in rat temperomandibular joint (TMJ) were investigated in whole-mount preparations and frozen sections by immunohistochemistry with the avidin-biotin-peroxidase complex method. Both types of immunoreactive nerves were observed primarily in the joint capsule, the peripheral articular disc, the synovial membrane, and the periosteum. The distribution of CGRP-LI nerves was similar to that of SP-LI nerves. The anterior portion of the joint capsule and disc was most densely innervated, followed by the posterior, lateral, and medial portions. In addition, CGRP-LI nerves were more numerous and more dense in immunointensity than SP-LI nerves. In the synovial membrane, many SP- and CGRP-LI nerves terminated in the subsynovial layer, but some branches extended into the superficial synovial lining layer close to the joint cavity. Immunolabeled nerves were prominently located in the disc attachment and peripheral portion of the disc, and occasional nerves were located in the dense collagenous disc band as an actual disc. However, no fibers were detected in the central disc band. Thus, most of the disc was not innervated by any nerves. The present study provides a morphological basis for the possible roles of neuropeptides in endocytosis by synoviocytes, regulation of blood flow in the synovial membrane, nociception mechanisms of the TMJ, and modulation of the inflammatory response in the TMJ.
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