Responses of neurons in the lateral cervical nucleus of the cat to noxious cutaneous stimulation

K. C. Kajander, G. J. Giesler

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The majority of neurons at the origin of the spinocervical tract are driven by noxious stimulation of their receptive fields. Surprisingly, previous studies have encountered only a small percentage of nociceptive neurons within the terminus of the spinocervical tract, the lateral cervical nucleus (LCN). To determine if previous reports have underestimated the proportion of nociceptive LCN neurons, 129 neurons within the nucleus were physiologically identified and examined in cats prepared using three different methods. Fifty-nine percent of the neurons studied in unanesthetized cats that were decerebrated and spinalized responded either differentially or exclusively to noxious mechanical stimulation of the skin within discrete receptive fields. LCN neurons also gave accelerating responses to increasingly more intense noxious thermal stimuli. LCN neurons are, therefore, capable of coding both the intensity and location of noxious stimuli. Only 6% of LCN neurons responded to noxious cutaneous stimuli in unanesthetized, decerebrated cats in which the spinal cord was intact. Only 4% of LCN neurons in intact urethan-anesthetized cats were driven by noxious stimulation. Several previous studies of the LCN have been performed in cats that were deeply anesthetized with barbiturates. Therefore, the effects of barbiturates on the nociceptive responses of LCN neurons were determined. Subanesthetic doses of intravenously administered barbiturates reduced or eliminated the responses of nociceptive LCN neurons to noxious thermal stimuli in decerebrated and spinalized cats. Responses to innocuous mechanical stimuli by these neurons were not blocked by barbiturates. Nociceptive LCN neurons in decerebrated and spinalized cats were somatotopically organized. Neurons with forelimb receptive fields were located in the ventromedialhalf of the LCN; neurons with hindlimb receptive fields were located in the dorsolateral half of the nucleus. This report and previous studies of the spinocervical tract suggest that the spinocervicothalamic pathway is capable of playing an important role in nociception.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1686-1704
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1987


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