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J Neurophysiol. 2001 Aug;86(2):856-70.

Differential projections of thermoreceptive and nociceptive lamina I trigeminothalamic and spinothalamic neurons in the cat.

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  • 1Division of Neurosurgery, Barrow Neurological Institute, Phoenix, Arizona 85013, USA.


The projections of 40 trigeminothalamic or spinothalamic (TSTT) lamina I neurons were mapped using antidromic activation from a mobile electrode array in barbiturate anesthetized cats. Single units were identified as projection cells from the initial array position and characterized with natural cutaneous stimuli as nociceptive-specific (NS, n = 9), polymodal nociceptive (HPC, n = 8), or thermoreceptive-specific (COOL, n = 22; WARM, n = 1) cells. Thresholds for antidromic activation were measured from each electrode in the mediolateral array at vertical steps of 250 microm over a 7-mm dorsoventral extent in two to eight (median = 6.0) anteroposterior planes. Histological reconstructions showed that the maps encompassed all three of the main lamina I projection targets observed in prior anatomical work, i.e., the ventral aspect of the ventroposterior complex (vVP), the dorsomedial aspect of the ventroposterior medial nucleus (dmVPM), and the submedial nucleus (Sm). The antidromic activation foci were localized to these sites (and occasional projections to other sites were also observed, such as the parafascicular nucleus and zona incerta). The projections of thermoreceptive and nociceptive cells differed. The projections of the thermoreceptive-specific cells were 20/23 to dmVPM, 21/23 to vVP, and 17/23 to Sm, whereas the projections of the NS cells were 1/9 to dmVPM, 9/9 to vVP, and 9/9 to Sm and the projections of the HPC cells were 0/8 to dmVPM, 7/8 to vVP, and 6/8 to Sm. Thus nearly all thermoreceptive cells projected to dmVPM, but almost no nociceptive cells did. Further, thermoreceptive cells projected medially within vVP (including the basal ventral medial nucleus), while nociceptive cells projected both medially and more laterally, and the ascending axons of thermoreceptive cells were concentrated in the medial mesencephalon, while the axons of nociceptive cells ascended in the lateral mesencephalon. These findings provide evidence for anatomical differences between these physiological classes of lamina I cells, and they corroborate prior anatomical localization of the lamina I TSTT projection targets in the cat. These results support evidence indicating that the ventral aspect of the basal ventral medial nucleus is important for thermosensory behavior in cats, consistent with the view that this region is a primordial homologue of the posterior ventral medial nucleus in primates.

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