Simultaneous reorganization in thalamocortical ensembles evolves over several hours after perioral capsaicin injections.
Reorganization of the somatosensory system was quantified by simultaneously recording from single-unit neural ensembles in the whisker regions of the ventral posterior medial (VPM) nucleus of the thalamus and the primary somatosensory (SI) cortex in anesthetized rats before, during, and after injecting capsaicin under the skin of the lip. Capsaicin, a compound that excites and then inactivates a subset of peripheral C and Adelta fibers, triggered increases in spontaneous firing of thalamocortical neurons (10-15 min after injection), as well as rapid reorganization of the whisker representations in both the VPM and SI. During the first hour after capsaicin injection, 57% of the 139 recorded neurons either gained or lost at least one whisker response in their receptive fields (RFs). Capsaicin-related changes continued to emerge for >/=6 h after the injection: Fifty percent of the single-neuron RFs changed between 1-2 and 5-6 h after capsaicin injection. Most (79%) of these late changes represented neural responses that had remained unchanged in the first postcapsaicin mapping; just under 20% of these late changes appeared in neurons that had previously shown no plasticity of response. The majority of the changes (55% immediately after injection, 66% 6 h later) involved "unmasking" of new tactile responses. RF change rates were comparable in SI and VPM (57-49%). Population analysis indicated that the reorganization was associated with a lessening of the "spatial coupling" between cortical neurons-a significant reduction in firing covariance that could be related to distances between neurons. This general loss of spatial coupling, in conjunction with increases in spontaneous firing, may create a situation that is favorable for the induction of synaptic plasticity. Our results indicate that the selective inactivation of a peripheral nociceptor subpopulation can induce rapid and long-evolving (>/=6 h) shifts in the balance of inhibition and excitation in the somatosensory system. The time course of these processes suggest that thalamic and cortical plasticity is not a linear reflection of spinal and brainstem changes that occur following the application of capsaicin.
Katz, DB; Simon, SA; Moody, A; Nicolelis, MA
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