Background: Complex regional pain syndromes (causalgia and RSD) can be relieved by blockade of the sympathetic efferent activity. The mechanisms of sympathetically maintained pain (SMP) are unclear. So far an adrenergic interaction between sympathetic vasoconstrictor neurons and nociceptors has been proposed. Alternatively, a cholinergic coupling of sympathetic sudomotor neurons and nociceptors is possible.
Objective: To determine the effect of cutaneous sympathetic sudomotor activity on pain induced by primary afferent C-nociceptor activation with capsaicin in humans.
Methods: In 10 healthy volunteers capsaicin was injected into the forearm skin to induce ongoing pain and dynamic and punctate mechanical hyperalgesia. Intensity of pain and hyperalgesia and area of hyperalgesia (planimetry) were assessed. The local skin temperature at the application and measurement sites was kept constant at 35 degrees C. In each individual the analyses were performed during the presence of low and high sympathetic sudomotor skin activity induced by whole-body temperature changes with a thermal suit. By altering whole-body temperature from a moderately warm to an intensely warm state, sympathetic sudomotor activity is modulated selectively in the widest range that can be achieved physiologically while sympathetic vasoconstrictor activity is continuously inhibited. The degree of sudomotor discharge was monitored by measuring cutaneous sweat production at the forearm with the colour indicator ponso-red. The inhibition of vasocontrictor discharge was monitored by measuring cutaneous blood flow at the index finger with laser Doppler flowmetry.
Results: The intensity and spatial distribution of capsaicin-evoked ongoing pain and dynamic and punctate mechanical hyperalgesia were not significantly different during the presence of high and low sympathetic sudomotor discharge.
Conclusions: Cutaneous sympathetic sudomotor activity does not influence capsaicin induced pain and mechanical hyperalgesia.