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J Neurophysiol. 1983 Dec;50(6):1479-96.

Responses of primate SI cortical neurons to noxious stimuli.


Recordings were made from single SI cortical neurons in the anesthetized macaque monkey. Each isolated cortical neuron was tested for responses to a standard series of mechanical stimuli. The stimuli included brushing the skin, pressure, and pinch. The majority of cortical neurons responded with the greatest discharge frequency to brushing the receptive field, but neurons were found in areas 3b and 1 that responded maximally to pinching the receptive field. A total of 68 cortical nociceptive neurons were examined in 10 animals. Cortical neurons that responded maximally to pinching the skin were also tested for responses to graded noxious heat pulses (from 35 to 43, 45, 47, and 50 degrees C). If the neuron failed to respond or only responded to 50 degrees C, the receptive field was also heated to temperatures of 53 and 55 degrees C. Fifty-six of the total population of nociceptive neurons were tested for responses to the complete series of noxious heat pulses: 46 (80%) exhibited a progressive increase in the discharge frequency as a function of stimulus intensity, and the spontaneous activity of two (4%) was inhibited. One population of cortical nociceptive neurons possessed restricted, contralateral receptive fields. These cells encoded the intensity of noxious mechanical and thermal stimulation. Sensitization of primary afferent nociceptors was reflected in the responses of SI cortical nociceptive neurons when the ascending series of noxious thermal stimulation was repeated. The population of cortical nociceptive neurons with restricted receptive fields exhibited no adaptation in the response during noxious heat pulses of 47 and 50 degrees C. At higher temperatures the response often continued to increase during the stimulus. The other population of cortical nociceptive neurons was found to have restricted, low-threshold receptive fields on the contralateral hindlimb and, in addition, could be activated only by intense pinching or noxious thermal stimuli delivered on any portion of the body. The stimulus-response functions obtained from noxious thermal stimulation of the contralateral hindlimb were not different from cortical nociceptive neurons with small receptive fields. However, nociceptive neurons with large receptive fields exhibited a consistent adaptation during a noxious heat pulse of 47 and 50 degrees C. Based on the response characteristics of these two populations of cortical nociceptive neurons, we conclude that neurons with small receptive fields possess the ability to provide information about the localization, the intensity, and the temporal attributes of a noxious stimulus.4+.

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