Background/aims: The spinal nociceptive RIII reflex, an exteroceptive cutaneous-muscular flexion reflex, is powerfully and specifically inhibited by painful heterotopic somatic stimuli. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the effects of nonpainful and painful visceral stimuli on this reflex.
Methods: In nine healthy volunteers, the effects of five levels of gastric distention were tested on the RIII reflex, recorded from the biceps femoris, and elicited by electrical stimulation of the ipsilateral sural nerve. Distentions were performed by means of a balloon that was placed in the proximal part of the stomach and connected to an electronic barostat. The sensations evoked by gastric distention were scored using a graded (0-6) questionnaire.
Results: The 200- and 400-mL distention levels elicited no significant modifications of the RIII reflex; the 600-, 800-, and 1000-mL levels inhibited the RIII reflex by 25%, 35%, and 55%, respectively. The magnitude of this inhibition correlated significantly (P < 0.0001) with both the level of distention and the intensity of visceral perception.
Conclusions: Gastric distention produces volume-dependent inhibition of the somatic RIII reflex in humans. This model may provide an interesting tool for objective and quantitative evaluation of normal and disturbed visceral sensations in humans.