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J Physiol. Sep 1983; 342: 383–397.
PMCID: PMC1193965

Responses in muscle afferent fibres of slow conduction velocity to contractions and ischaemia in the cat.


The aim of the study was to find out to what extent muscle receptors with slowly conducting afferent fibres (group III and IV) are activated by muscular contractions of moderate force, and what kind of muscle afferents could mediate the pain of ischaemic exercise. In chloralose-anaesthetized cats, the impulse activity of single afferent units from the triceps surae muscle was recorded from dorsal root filaments during muscular contractions with intact blood supply and after occlusion of the muscle artery. Two types of responses were observed to contractions without muscular ischaemia. One was characterized by sudden onset and a graded response amplitude to contractions of increasing force. In most cases stretching the muscle was also an effective stimulus. Units showing this response behaviour were labelled c.s.m (contraction-sensitive with mechanical mechanism of activation). The other response type had a more delayed onset and often outlasted the exercise period; because of the unknown mechanism of activation, units of this kind were labelled c.s.x. The proportion of c.s.m receptors was significantly higher amongst group III than amongst group IV units. During ischaemic contractions of comparable force the c.s.m and c.s.x receptors exhibited an unchanged or a decreased response amplitude. Under these conditions another receptor type (N, for nociceptive) was activated which did not respond to contractions with intact blood supply. Vigorous activations during ischaemic work were only observed in group IV receptors. The majority of the 131 group III and IV units tested did not respond to contractions at all. These contraction-insensitive (c.i.) endings probably comprised different receptor populations (nociceptors, thermoreceptors, low-threshold mechanoreceptors). It is concluded that the various central nervous effects of muscular exercise without ischaemia which are known to be due to raised activity in thin muscle afferents (e.g. cardiopulmonary adjustments, spinal locomotor reflexes) are probably produced by the c.s.m and c.s.x types. The pain of ischaemic contractions is most likely mediated by the N receptors most of which possess non-myelinated afferent fibres.

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