The trigeminal ganglion (TrG) and mesencephalic trigeminal nucleus (MTN) neurons are involved in the transmission of orofacial sensory information. The presence of nitric oxide (NO), a putative neurotransmitter substance in the nervous system, was examined in the cat TrG and MTN using nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate diaphorase (NADPH-d) histochemistry and nitric oxide synthase (NOS) immunohistochemistry. In the TrG, where the majority of the trigeminal primary afferent perikarya are located, most of the intensely NADPH-d/ NOS-stained cells were small in size and distributed randomly throughout the ganglion. The medium-sized neurons were moderately stained. A plexus of pericellular varicose arborizations around large unstained ganglion cells and densely stained fibers in-between could also be observed. In the caudal part of the MTN, both NADPH-d activity and NOS immunoreactivity was present in MTN neurons. In addition, a few scattered NADPH-d/NOS-containing neurons were found in the mesencephalic-pontine junction part of the nucleus. In contrast, only nerve fibers and their terminals were present at a more rostral level in the mid- and rostral MTN. MTN neuronal perikarya were enveloped in fine basket-like NADPH-d/ NOS-positive networks. Differential expression patterns of NOS and its marker NADPH-d suggest that trigeminal sensory information processing in the cat MTN is controlled by nitrergic input through different mechanisms. We introduce the concept that NO can act as a neurotransmitter in mediating nociceptive and proprioceptive information from periodontal mechanoreceptors but may also participate in modulating the activity of jaw-closing muscle afferent MTN neurons.

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