Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is used clinically to limit chronic pain, but fundamental questions remain on the identity of axonal populations recruited. We developed an ex vivo adult mouse spinal cord preparation to assess recruitment following delivery of clinically analogous stimuli determined by downscaling a finite element model of clinical SCS. Analogous electric field distributions were generated with 300-µm × 300-µm electrodes positioned 200 µm above the dorsal column (DC) with stimulation between 50 and 200 µA. We compared axonal recruitment using electrodes of comparable size and stimulus amplitudes when contacting the caudal thoracic DC and at 200 or 600 μm above. Antidromic responses recorded distally from the DC, the adjacent Lissauer tract (LT), and in dorsal roots (DRs) were found to be amplitude and site dependent. Responses in the DC included a unique component not seen in DRs, having the lowest SCS recruitment amplitude and fastest conduction velocity. At 200 μm above, mean cathodic SCS recruitment threshold for axons in DRs and LT were 2.6 and 4.4 times higher, respectively, than DC threshold. SCS recruited primary afferents in all (up to 8) caudal segments sampled. Whereas A and C fibers could be recruited at nearby segments, only A fiber recruitment and synaptically mediated dorsal root reflexes were observed in more distant (lumbar) segments. In sum, clinically analogous SCS led to multisegmental recruitment of several somatosensory-encoding axonal populations. Most striking is the possibility that the lowest threshold recruitment of a nonprimary afferent population in the DC are postsynaptic dorsal column tract cells (PSDCs) projecting to gracile nuclei.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is used clinically to control pain. To identify axonal populations recruited, finite element modeling identified scaling parameters to deliver clinically analogous SCS in an ex vivo adult mouse spinal cord preparation. Results showed that SCS first recruited an axonal population in the dorsal column at a threshold severalfold lower than primary afferents. These putative postsynaptic dorsal column tract cells may represent a previously unconsidered population responsible for SCS-induced paresthesias necessary for analgesia.
Keywords: Lissauer tract; SCS; dorsal column; neuromodulation; pain; postsynaptic dorsal column.