Responses of thalamic neurons to itch- and pain-producing stimuli in rats

J Neurophysiol. 2018 Sep 1;120(3):1119-1134. doi: 10.1152/jn.00264.2018. Epub 2018 Jun 6.


Understanding of processing and transmission of information related to itch and pain in the thalamus is incomplete. In fact, no single unit studies of pruriceptive transmission in the thalamus have yet appeared. In urethane-anesthetized rats, we examined responses of 66 thalamic neurons to itch- and pain- inducing stimuli including chloroquine, serotonin, β-alanine, histamine, and capsaicin. Eighty percent of all cells were activated by intradermal injections of one or more pruritogens. Forty percent of tested neurons responded to injection of three, four, or even five agents. Almost half of the examined neurons had mechanically defined receptive fields that extended onto distant areas of the body. Pruriceptive neurons were located within what appeared to be a continuous cell column extending from the posterior triangular nucleus (PoT) caudally to the ventral posterior medial nucleus (VPM) rostrally. All neurons tested within PoT were found to be pruriceptive. In addition, neurons in this nucleus responded at higher frequencies than did those in VPM, an indication that PoT might prove to be a particularly interesting region for additional studies of itch transmission. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Processing of information related to itch within in the thalamus is not well understood, We show in this, the first single-unit electrophysiological study of responses of thalamic neurons to pruritogens, that itch-responsive neurons are concentrated in two nuclei within the rat thalamus, the posterior triangular, and the ventral posterior medial nuclei.

Keywords: nociception; pruriception; thalamic single units.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Antipruritics / adverse effects
  • Capsaicin / administration & dosage
  • Capsaicin / adverse effects
  • Chloroquine / administration & dosage
  • Chloroquine / adverse effects
  • Histamine / administration & dosage
  • Histamine / adverse effects
  • Injections, Intradermal
  • Male
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / adverse effects
  • Pain / chemically induced*
  • Poisson Distribution
  • Pruritus / chemically induced*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Serotonin / administration & dosage
  • Serotonin / adverse effects
  • Ventral Thalamic Nuclei / physiology*
  • beta-Alanine / administration & dosage
  • beta-Alanine / adverse effects


  • Antipruritics
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • beta-Alanine
  • Serotonin
  • Histamine
  • Chloroquine
  • Capsaicin