Responses of spinothalamic tract cells in the superficial dorsal horn of the primate lumbar spinal cord

J Physiol. 1987 Jul;388:681-703. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1987.sp016638.


1. The responses of thirty-five spinothalamic tract (s.t.t.) cells in or near lamina I of the dorsal horn were examined in chloralose- and barbiturate-anaesthetized monkeys (Macaca fascicularis). Many of the cells could be classified on the basis of receptive field properties as either wide dynamic range (w.d.r.) cells or as high-threshold (h.t.) cells. 2. Thalamic stimulation sites for antidromic activation of the s.t.t. cells were in or around the ventral posterior lateral nucleus. Axons of the s.t.t. cells had a mean conduction velocity of 17 m/s (33 and 14 m/s for w.d.r. and h.t. cells, respectively). Mean minimum afferent conduction velocity averaged 37 m/s (52 and 23 m/s for w.d.r. and h.t. cells, respectively). Background activity was low (mean of 2.3 impulses/s). 3. An alternative classification of the cells was based on a kappa means cluster analysis of the responses to a series of mechanical stimuli. The response profiles for a given cell were normalized, and those of the s.t.t. cells in or near lamina I were analysed along with the responses of a population of s.t.t. cells, largely in laminae IV-VI, that had been described previously. S.t.t. cells in or near lamina I were distributed amongst three of the four groups of cells determined by the cluster analysis (types 2-4). 4. Vibratory stimuli excited most of the w.d.r. but none of the h.t. cells tested. Best frequencies were 5-10 Hz (at 100 and 500 microns indentations). 5. Most w.d.r. but few h.t. cells responded to cutaneous cooling. All of the cells responded to noxious heating, but w.d.r. cells had steeper stimulus-response curves. 6. After a series of noxious heat stimuli, the thresholds for noxious heat were lowered and responses to lower-intensity noxious heat stimuli were enhanced (sensitization). However, responses to more intense stimuli were reduced (inactivation). Similar changes were seen in the responses to graded mechanical stimuli. 7. It is concluded that s.t.t. cells in or near lamina I can signal noxious cutaneous stimuli but have poor coding abilities for innocuous mechanical stimuli. Some of these cells respond to innocuous thermal stimuli, but their role in thermoreception is unclear. The small receptive fields suggest that these cells could contribute to stimulus localization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Female
  • Foot
  • Hot Temperature
  • Macaca fascicularis
  • Male
  • Neural Conduction
  • Spinal Cord / physiology*
  • Spinothalamic Tracts / physiology*
  • Thalamus / physiology
  • Vibration