Ocular exposure to ultraviolet irradiation (UVR) induces photokeratitis, a common environmental concern that inflames ocular tissues and causes pain. The central neural mechanisms that contribute to the sensory aspects of photokeratitis after UVR are not known. In awake male rats, ocular surface application of hypertonic saline evoked eye wipe behavior that was enhanced 2-3 days after UVR and returned to control levels by 7 days. Similarly, under isoflurane anesthesia, hypertonic saline-evoked activity of ocular neurons in superficial laminae at the trigeminal subnucleus caudalis/cervical (Vc/C1) region was enhanced 2 days, but not 7 days, after UVR. By contrast, the response of neurons at the interpolaris/caudalis (Vi/Vc) transition region to hypertonic saline was not affected by UVR. The background activity and convergent cutaneous receptive field areas of Vc/C1 or Vi/Vc neurons were not affected by UVR. Aqueous humor protein levels were elevated 2 and 7 days after UVR. UVR enhanced nociceptive behavior, after a latent period, with a time course similar to that of ocular neurons in superficial laminae at the Vc/C1 region. The Vc/C1 region plays a key role in primary hyperalgesia induced by UVR, whereas the Vi/Vc region likely mediates other aspects of ocular function.
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