Trigeminal pathways for hypertonic saline- and light-evoked corneal reflexes

Neuroscience. 2014 Sep 26:277:716-23. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2014.07.052. Epub 2014 Jul 31.


Cornea-evoked eyeblinks maintain tear film integrity on the ocular surface in response to dryness and protect the eye from real or potential damage. Eyelid movement following electrical stimulation has been well studied in humans and animals; however, the central neural pathways that mediate protective eyeblinks following natural nociceptive signals are less certain. The aim of this study was to assess the role of the trigeminal subnucleus interpolaris/caudalis (Vi/Vc) transition and subnucleus caudalis/upper cervical cord (Vc/C1) junction regions on orbicularis oculi electromyographic (OOemg) activity evoked by ocular surface application of hypertonic saline or exposure to bright light in urethane anesthetized male rats. The Vi/Vc and Vc/C1 regions are the main sites of termination for trigeminal afferent nerves that supply the ocular surface, while hypertonic saline (saline=0.15-5M) and bright light (light=5k-20klux) selectively activate ocular surface and intraocular trigeminal nerves, respectively, and excite second-order neurons at the Vi/Vc and Vc/C1 regions. Integrated OOemg activity, ipsilateral to the applied stimulus, increased with greater stimulus intensities for both modalities. Lidocaine applied to the ocular surface inhibited OOemg responses to hypertonic saline, but did not alter the response to light. Lidocaine injected into the trigeminal ganglion blocked completely the OOemg responses to hypertonic saline and light indicating a trigeminal afferent origin. Synaptic blockade by cobalt chloride of the Vi/Vc or Vc/C1 region greatly reduced OOemg responses to hypertonic saline and bright light. These data indicate that OOemg activity evoked by natural stimuli known to cause irritation or discomfort in humans depends on a relay in both the Vi/Vc transition and Vc/C1 junction regions.

Keywords: corneal reflex; electromyography; ocular pain; orbicularis oculi; synaptic blocked; trigeminal brainstem.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Anesthetics, Intravenous / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Blinking / drug effects
  • Blinking / physiology*
  • Cervical Cord / drug effects
  • Cervical Cord / physiology
  • Cobalt / pharmacology
  • Cornea / drug effects
  • Cornea / physiology*
  • Electromyography
  • Lidocaine / pharmacology
  • Light
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / drug effects
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurons, Afferent / drug effects
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology
  • Peripheral Nervous System Agents / pharmacology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Rats
  • Saline Solution, Hypertonic / administration & dosage
  • Trigeminal Nerve / drug effects
  • Trigeminal Nerve / physiology*
  • Trigeminal Nuclei / drug effects
  • Trigeminal Nuclei / physiology
  • Urethane / pharmacology
  • Voltage-Gated Sodium Channel Blockers / pharmacology


  • Anesthetics, Intravenous
  • Peripheral Nervous System Agents
  • Saline Solution, Hypertonic
  • Voltage-Gated Sodium Channel Blockers
  • Cobalt
  • Urethane
  • Lidocaine
  • cobaltous chloride