The properties of neurones recorded in the superficial dorsal horn of the rat spinal cord

J Comp Neurol. 1983 Dec 10;221(3):313-28. doi: 10.1002/cne.902210307.


The physiological properties of neurones in the superficial laminae of the dorsal horn of the fourth and fifth lumbar segments of the rat spinal cord have been investigated in decerebrate spinal animals. Both extracellular recordings with platinum-plated tungsten microelectrodes (n = 72) and intracellular recordings with glass microelectrodes (N = 79) were made. Attempts were made to fill cells intracellularly with horseradish peroxidase or Lucifer Yellow. Thirty-seven percent of the intracellularly injected neurones were recovered after histological processing and their cell bodies found to be in lamina 1 or 2 and in the dorsal white matter overlying lamina 1. The dendritic spread of the stained neurones was maximal in the rostrocaudal plane with a restricted mediolateral spread. The physiological properties of the extracellularly recorded units, the intracellularly unidentified units, and the intracellularly stained units were the same. The neurones were characterized by low background activity and all had excitatory receptive fields on the lower limb. Some neurones responded only to low-threshold mechanical stimulation of the skin or only to noxious skin stimulation but the majority of units (58%) were wide-dynamic-range cells responding to both types of stimuli. Receptive field classification was made questionable, however, by the existence of cells (9%) that exhibited a spontaneous shift in the size of their receptive fields and in the type of stimulus that elicited a response. The neurones in the superficial dorsal horn commonly showed a marked inhibition to repeated cutaneous stimuli (27%) or a prolonged afterdischarge followed a single stimulus (20%). Afferent input from the sural nerve was found to be from A and C fibres in both extra-and intracellular recordings. A delta- and C-mediated excitations were most common although convergent inputs from A beta-fibres occurred in 40% of units. No correlation was found between cell structure or distribution of dendritic fields and physiological properties in our small sample of intracellularly stained cells. The morphology of the cells was highly diverse, as were the different receptive fields. There was, however, some correlation between the location of cell bodies and their responses. Neurones responding only to low-threshold stimuli were distributed either in the dorsal white matter or in inner lamina 2. Wide-dynamic-range cells were distributed throughout the superficial dorsal horn. These results suggest that neurones of different shapes and positions may subserve the same function and, conversely, that neurones of the same shape and position may subserve different functions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure
  • Electrophysiology
  • Hindlimb / innervation
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Sensation / physiology
  • Spinal Cord / cytology*
  • Spinal Cord / physiology
  • Staining and Labeling / methods
  • Substantia Gelatinosa / cytology