The dorsal spinal cord synthesizes a variety of neuropeptides that modulate the transmission of nociceptive sensory information. Here, we used genetic fate mapping to show that Tlx3(+) spinal cord neurons and their derivatives represent a heterogeneous population of neurons, marked by partially overlapping expression of a set of neuropeptide genes, including those encoding the anti-opioid peptide cholecystokinin, pronociceptive Substance P (SP), Neurokinin B, and a late wave of somatostatin. Mutations of Tlx3 and Tlx1 result in a loss of expression of these peptide genes. Brn3a, a homeobox transcription factor, the expression of which is partly dependent on Tlx3, is required specifically for the early wave of SP expression. These studies suggest that Tlx1 and Tlx3 operate high in the regulatory hierarchy that coordinates specification of dorsal horn pain-modulatory peptidergic neurons.
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