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Neuroscience. 2000;98(4):793-800.

Mechano-insensitive nociceptors encode pain evoked by tonic pressure to human skin.

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Department of Clinical Neurophysiology, University of Uppsala, Uppsala, Sweden.


Single unmyelinated axons in the superficial branch of the peroneal nerve of human subjects were recorded (microneurography) and the response patterns during tonic pressure stimulation (14N at 30 mm(2); 120 s) were assessed using the previously described "marking technique". It was found that tonic pressure stimuli induced augmenting pain responses which were matched by the discharges of initially mechano-insensitive ("silent") C-units, whereas mechano- and heat-responsive "polymodal" C-nociceptors showed a response pattern incompatible with the stimulus-induced perceptions, namely strong initial excitation, followed by adaptation. Eighteen mechano- and heat-responsive "polymodal" C-fibers and 11 mechano-insensitive units were studied. The former had von Frey thresholds <160 mN, the latter were not excited by a von Frey filament of 750 mN (six of them responded to radiant heat stimulation). However, in the course of pressure stimulation, nine of the 11 mechano-insensitive units were activated after more than 20s. A second, identical pressure stimulus induced a stronger response in mechano-insensitive and a weaker response in mechano-responsive units. The stronger response, indicating sensitization, matched the more intense pain perception during the second pressure stimulus. It is concluded that mechano-insensitive C-nociceptors encode pressure-induced pain in human hairy skin and that they play an important role in static mechanical hyperalgesia.

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