Descending control of spinal nociception is a major determinant of normal and chronic pain. Myelinated (A-fibre) and unmyelinated (C-fibre) nociceptors convey different qualities of the pain signal (first and second pain, respectively), and they play different roles in the development and maintenance of chronic pain states. It is of considerable importance, therefore, to determine whether descending control has differential effects on the central processing of A- vs. C-nociceptive input. In anaesthetised rats, biceps femoris EMG was recorded to monitor the thresholds and encoding properties of responses evoked by fast (7.5 °C s-1) or slow (2.5 °C s-1) rates of skin heating of the dorsal surface of a hindpaw to preferentially activate myelinated or unmyelinated heat nociceptors, respectively. Activation of neurones in the periaqueductal grey (PAG) by microinjection of dl-homocysteic acid (DLH) or bicuculline (BIC) significantly increased response thresholds to slow rates of heating (P < 0.001), but not those to fast rates of heating (P > 0.05). The ability of the EMG to encode the stimulus intensity of fast rates of skin heating remained intact and unaltered (r2 = 0.99, P < 0.001) following BIC but not DLH injection. In contrast, encoding of the stimulus intensity of slow rates of skin heating was abolished following BIC and DLH injection. The functional significance of differential descending control of the central processing of C- and A-nociceptive inputs is discussed with respect to role of the PAG in mediating antinociception as part of active coping strategies in emergency situations and the role of C- and A-nociceptive inputs in animal models of chronic pain.
- Periaqueductal grey
- Withdrawal reflex