Spontaneous neuronal hyperactivity in the medial and intralaminar thalamic nuclei of patients with deafferentation pain

J Neurosurg. 1991 Mar;74(3):415-21. doi: 10.3171/jns.1991.74.3.0415.


Electrical activity was recorded from single cells in the thalamus of 10 patients with chronic pain associated with deafferentation. Under local anesthesia, these patients underwent either electrode implantation or thalamotomy for treatment of their pain. In eight of the 10 patients, single units were identified as discharging spontaneously in high-frequency, often rhythmic, bursts. The discharges were of two types: short bursts comprised of two to six spikes with a burst frequency of one to four per second; and long trains of 30 to 80 spikes of similar frequency. Reconstruction of electrode trajectories indicated that recordings were made from the region corresponding to the lateral aspect of the mediodorsal thalamic nucleus, the central lateral nucleus, a small part of the central median nucleus, and the parafascicular nucleus. In the eight patients in whom spontaneous neuronal burst activity was exhibited, it was impossible to study activity evoked by natural cutaneous stimulation due to the continuous spontaneous neuronal discharges. Both animal and human studies have suggested that pain related to deafferentation is accompanied by spontaneous hyperactivity in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord and in the ventral posterior thalamic nuclei. The authors present evidence of spontaneous neuronal hyperactivity in the intralaminar thalamic nuclei of patients with pain related to deafferentation. The findings suggest that spontaneous neuronal discharge in patients with pain related to deafferentation is more widespread in the central nervous system than has been previously appreciated. The results have important implications for the surgical treatment of chronic pain.

MeSH terms

  • Afferent Pathways / physiopathology*
  • Denervation
  • Electrophysiology
  • Humans
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Thalamic Nuclei / physiopathology*