Responses of monkey medullary dorsal horn neurons during the detection of noxious heat stimuli.
1. We examined the activity of thermally sensitive trigeminothalamic neurons and nonprojection neurons in the medullary dorsal horn (trigeminal nucleus caudalis) in three monkeys performing thermal and visual detection tasks. 2. An examination of neuronal stimulus-response functions, obtained during thermal-detection tasks in which noxious heat stimuli were applied to the face, indicated that wide-dynamic-range neurons (WDR, responsive to innocuous mechanical stimuli with greater responses to noxious mechanical stimuli) could be subclassified based on the slope values of linear regression lines. WDR1 neurons exhibited significantly greater sensitivity to noxious heat stimulation than WDR2 neurons or nociceptive-specific neurons (NS, responsive only to noxious stimuli). 3. In one behavioral task, the monkeys detected 1.0 degrees C increases in noxious heat from preceding noxious heat stimuli ranging from 44 to 48 degrees C. WDR1, WDR2, and NS neurons increased their discharge frequency as a function of the intensity of the first noxious heat temperature (T1) as well as the final temperature (T2). The responses of WDR1 neurons were greater than those produced by WDR2 or NS neurons across all the temperatures examined. The order of stimulus presentation affected the responses of WDR1 neurons to 1.0 degrees C increases in the noxious heat range but not those of WDR2 or NS neurons. 4. In a second behavioral task, the monkeys detected small increases in noxious heat (0.2-0.8 degrees C) from a first temperature of 46 degrees C. Although the responses of all three classes of neurons were monotonically related to stimulus intensity, WDR1 neurons exhibited greater sensitivity to small temperature increases than either WDR2 or NS neurons. 5. Subpopulations of all three classes of neurons exhibited responses that were independent of thermal stimulus parameters or sensory modality and that only occurred during the behavioral task. These task-related responses were time-locked to specific behavioral events associated with trial initiation and trial continuation. 6. These data provide evidence that a subpopulation of WDR neurons is the dorsal horn cell type most sensitive to small increases in noxious heat in the 45-49 degrees C temperature range and provides the most information about stimulus intensity. The findings support the view that nociceptive neurons have the capacity to precisely encode stimulus features in the noxious range and that WDR neurons are likely to participate in the monkeys' ability to perceive the intensity of such stimuli.
Maixner, W; Dubner, R; Kenshalo, DR; Bushnell, MC; Oliveras, JL
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