Sensory neuron types have been distinguished by distinct morphological and transcriptional characteristics. Excitability is the most fundamental functional feature of neurons. Mathematical models described by Hodgkin have revealed three types of neuronal excitability based on the relationship between firing frequency and applied current intensity. However, whether natural sensory neurons display different functional characteristics in terms of excitability and whether this excitability type undergoes plastic changes under pathological pain states have remained elusive. Here, by utilizing whole-cell patch clamp recordings, behavioral and pharmacological assays, we demonstrated that large dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons can be classified into three classes and four subclasses based on their excitability patterns, which is similar to mathematical models raised by Hodgkin. Analysis of hyperpolarization-activated cation current (Ih
) revealed different magnitude of Ih
in different excitability types of large DRG neurons, with higher Ih
in Class 2-1 than that in Class 1, 2-2 and 3. This indicates a crucial role of Ih
in the determination of excitability type of large DRG neurons. More importantly, this pattern of excitability displays plastic changes and transition under pathological pain states caused by peripheral nerve injury. This study sheds new light on the functional characteristics of large DRG neurons and extends functional classification of large DRG neurons by integration of transcriptomic and morphological characteristics.
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