Allodynia mediated by C-tactile afferents in human hairy skin

J Physiol. 2011 Aug 15;589(Pt 16):4065-75. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2011.211326. Epub 2011 Jul 4.


We recently showed a contribution of low-threshold cutaneous mechanoreceptors to vibration-evoked changes in the perception of muscle pain. Neutral-touch stimulation (vibration) of the hairy skin during underlying muscle pain evoked an overall increase in pain intensity, i.e. allodynia. This effect appeared to be dependent upon cutaneous afferents, as allodynia was abolished by intradermal anaesthesia. However, it remains unclear whether allodynia results from activation of a single class of cutaneous afferents or the convergence of inputs from multiple classes. Intriguingly, no existing human study has examined the contribution of C-tactile (CT) afferents to allodynia. Detailed psychophysical observations were made in 29 healthy subjects (18 males and 11 females). Sustained muscle pain was induced by infusing hypertonic saline (HS: 5%) into tibialis anterior muscle (TA). Sinusoidal vibration (200 Hz–200 μm) was applied to the hairy skin overlying TA. Pain ratings were recorded using a visual analogue scale (VAS). In order to evaluate the role of myelinated and unmyelinated cutaneous afferents in the expression of vibration-evoked allodynia, compression block of the sciatic nerve, and low-dose intradermal anaesthesia (Xylocaine 0.25%) were used, respectively. In addition, the modulation of muscle pain by gentle brushing (1.0 and 3.0 cm s(−1))--known to excite CT fibres--was examined. Brushing stimuli were applied to the hairy skin with all fibres intact and following the blockade of myelinated afferents. During tonic muscle pain (VAS 4–6), vibration evoked a significant and reproducible increase in muscle pain (allodynia) that persisted following compression of myelinated afferents. During compression block, the sense of vibration was abolished, but the vibration-evoked allodynia persisted. In contrast, selective anaesthesia of unmyelinated cutaneous afferents abolished the allodynia, whereas the percept of vibration remained unaffected. Furthermore, allodynia was preserved in the adjacent non-anaesthetized skin. Conformingly, gentle brushing produced allodynia (at both brushing speeds) that persisted during the blockade of myelinated afferents. Prior to the induction and following cessation of muscle pain, all subjects reported vibration and brushing as non-painful (VAS = 0). These results demonstrate that CT fibres in hairy skin mediate allodynia, and that CT-mediated inputs have a pluripotent central effect.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Afferent Pathways / physiology
  • Female
  • Hair Follicle / innervation
  • Hair Follicle / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hyperalgesia / physiopathology*
  • Hyperalgesia / prevention & control
  • Male
  • Nerve Fibers, Unmyelinated / physiology*
  • Pain Measurement / methods
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena*
  • Touch / physiology*
  • Young Adult