Spinal and supraspinal contributions to central sensitization in peripheral neuropathy

Neurosignals. 2005;14(4):175-81. doi: 10.1159/000087656.


We will focus on spinal cord dorsal horn lamina I projection neurones, their supraspinal targets and involvement in pain processing. These spinal cord neurons respond to tonic peripheral inputs by wind-up and other intrinsic mechanisms that cause central hyper-excitability, which in turn can further enhance afferent inputs. We describe here another hierarchy of excitation - as inputs arrive in lamina I, neurones rapidly inform the parabrachial area (PBA) and periaqueductal grey (PAG), areas associated with the affective and autonomic responses to pain. In addition, PBA can connect to areas of the brainstem that send descending projections down to the spinal cord - establishing a loop. The serotonin receptor, 5HT3, in the spinal cord mediates excitatory descending inputs from the brainstem. These descending excitatory inputs are needed for the full coding of polymodal peripheral inputs from spinal neurons and are enhanced after nerve injury. Furthermore, activity in this serotonergic system can determine the actions of gabapentin (GBP) that is widely used in the treatment of neuropathic pain. Thus, a hierarchy of separate, but interacting excitatory systems exist at peripheral, spinal and supraspinal sites that all converge on spinal neurones. The reciprocal relations between pain, fear, anxiety and autonomic responses are likely to be subserved by these spinal-brainstem-spinal pathways we describe here. Understanding these pain pathways is a first step toward elucidating the complex links between pain and emotions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Afferent Pathways / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / pathology
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Posterior Horn Cells / physiopathology*
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Spinal Cord / pathology
  • Spinal Cord / physiopathology*


  • Serotonin