Unmyelinated C-fibers are a major type of sensory neurons conveying pain information. Action potential conduction is regulated by the bifurcation (T-junction) of sensory neuron axons within the dorsal root ganglia (DRG). Understanding how C-fiber signaling is influenced by the morphology of the T-junction and the local expression of ion channels is important for understanding pain signaling. In this study we used biophysical computer modeling to investigate the influence of axon morphology within the DRG and various membrane conductances on the reliability of spike propagation. As expected, calculated input impedance and the amplitude of propagating action potentials were both lowest at the T-junction. Propagation reliability for single spikes was highly sensitive to the diameter of the stem axon and the density of voltage-gated Na(+) channels. A model containing only fast voltage-gated Na(+) and delayed-rectifier K(+) channels conducted trains of spikes up to frequencies of 110 Hz. The addition of slowly activating KCNQ channels (i.e., KV7 or M-channels) to the model reduced the following frequency to 30 Hz. Hyperpolarization produced by addition of a much slower conductance, such as a Ca(2+)-dependent K(+) current, was needed to reduce the following frequency to 6 Hz. Attenuation of driving force due to ion accumulation or hyperpolarization produced by a Na(+)-K(+) pump had no effect on following frequency but could influence the reliability of spike propagation mutually with the voltage shift generated by a Ca(2+)-dependent K(+) current. These simulations suggest how specific ion channels within the DRG may contribute toward therapeutic treatments for chronic pain.
Keywords: DRG; KCNQ; action potential; computer model; nociceptor; unmyelinated axon.
Copyright © 2015 the American Physiological Society.