Response characterstics of spinothalamic tract neurons that project to the posterior thalamus in rats

Xijing Zhang, Glenn J. Giesler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


A sizeable number of spinothalamic tract axons terminate in the posterior thalamus. The functional roles and precise areas of termination of these axons have been a subject of recent controversy. The goals of this study were to identify spinothalamic tract neurons (STT) within the cervical enlargement that project to this area, characterize their responses to mechanical and thermal stimulation of their receptive fields, and use microantidromic tracking methods to determine the nuclei in which their axons terminate. Forty-seven neurons were antidromically activated using low-amplitude (≤30 μA) current pulses in the contralateral posterior thalamus. The 51 points at which antidromic activation thresholds were lowest were surrounded by ineffective tracks indicating that the surrounded axons terminated within the posterior thalamus. The areas of termination were located primarily in the posterior triangular, medial geniculate, posterior and posterior intralaminar, and suprageniculate nuclei. Recording points were located in the superficial and deep dorsal horn. The mean antidromic conduction velocity was 6.4 m/s, a conduction velocity slower than that of other projections to the thalamus or hypothalamus in rats. Cutaneous receptive fields appeared to be smaller than those of neurons projecting to other areas of the thalamus or to the hypothalamus. Each of the examined neurons responded exclusively or preferentially to noxious stimuli. These findings indicate that the STT carries nociceptive information to several target nuclei within the posterior thalamus. We discuss the evidence that this projection provides nociceptive information that plays an important role in fear conditioning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2552-2564
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2005


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