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PLoS One. 2012;7(4):e35817. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0035817. Epub 2012 Apr 25.

Thermal detection thresholds of Aδ- and C-fibre afferents activated by brief CO2 laser pulses applied onto the human hairy skin.

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  • 1Institute of Neuroscience (IONS), Université catholique de Louvain, Brussels, Belgium.


Brief high-power laser pulses applied onto the hairy skin of the distal end of a limb generate a double sensation related to the activation of Aδ- and C-fibres, referred to as first and second pain. However, neurophysiological and behavioural responses related to the activation of C-fibres can be studied reliably only if the concomitant activation of Aδ-fibres is avoided. Here, using a novel CO(2) laser stimulator able to deliver constant-temperature heat pulses through a feedback regulation of laser power by an online measurement of skin temperature at target site, combined with an adaptive staircase algorithm using reaction-time to distinguish between responses triggered by Aδ- and C-fibre input, we show that it is possible to estimate robustly and independently the thermal detection thresholds of Aδ-fibres (46.9±1.7°C) and C-fibres (39.8±1.7°C). Furthermore, we show that both thresholds are dependent on the skin temperature preceding and/or surrounding the test stimulus, indicating that the Aδ- and C-fibre afferents triggering the behavioural responses to brief laser pulses behave, at least partially, as detectors of a change in skin temperature rather than as pure level detectors. Most importantly, our results show that the difference in threshold between Aδ- and C-fibre afferents activated by brief laser pulses can be exploited to activate C-fibres selectively and reliably, provided that the rise in skin temperature generated by the laser stimulator is well-controlled. Our approach could constitute a tool to explore, in humans, the physiological and pathophysiological mechanisms involved in processing C- and Aδ-fibre input, respectively.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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