An investigation into the peripheral substrates involved in the tactile modulation of cutaneous pain with emphasis on the C-tactile fibres

Exp Brain Res. 2013 Jun;227(4):457-65. doi: 10.1007/s00221-013-3521-5. Epub 2013 Apr 21.


We recently demonstrated the emergence of touch-evoked pain (allodynia) during innocuous tactile stimulation of the skin overlying a painful muscle. This effect appeared to depend on a class of low-threshold unmyelinated mechanoafferents, termed C-tactile fibres (CT). In this study, we investigated the peripheral neurocircuitry of allodynia when pain originates in the skin. Psychophysical observations were carried out in 28 healthy subjects. Cutaneous pain was induced by infusing hypertonic saline (HS: 5 %) into the hairy skin overlying tibialis anterior muscle. An innocuous tactile stimulus (sinusoidal vibration: 200 Hz-200 μm) was concurrently applied to the hairy skin ~90 mm distal to the HS-infusion site. The contribution of different fibre classes to allodynia was determined by employing conduction blocks of myelinated (sciatic nerve compression) and unmyelinated (intradermal anaesthesia, Xylocaine 0.25 %) fibres. In absence of background nociceptive input, vibration was reported as non-painful. During cutaneous pain, vibration evoked a significant and reproducible increase in the overall pain intensity (allodynia). The blockade of myelinated fibres abolished the vibration sense, but the vibration-evoked allodynia persisted. Conversely, the blockade of unmyelinated cutaneous fibres abolished the allodynia (while the myelinated fibres were conducting or not). On the basis of these findings, in addition to our earlier work, we conclude that the allodynic effect of CT-fibre activation is not limited to nociceptive input arising from the muscle, but can be equally realized when pain originates in the skin. These results denote a broader role of CTs in pain modulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Cutaneous
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Nerve Fibers, Unmyelinated / drug effects
  • Nerve Fibers, Unmyelinated / physiology*
  • Pain / chemically induced
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain Measurement / methods*
  • Physical Stimulation / adverse effects*
  • Saline Solution, Hypertonic / administration & dosage
  • Saline Solution, Hypertonic / adverse effects
  • Touch / physiology*
  • Vibration / adverse effects*
  • Young Adult


  • Saline Solution, Hypertonic