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J Neurosci. 2001 Apr 15;21(8):RC140.

Early onset of spontaneous activity in uninjured C-fiber nociceptors after injury to neighboring nerve fibers.

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Department of Neurosurgery, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland 21287, USA.


Ligation and transection of the L5 spinal nerve in the rat lead to behavioral signs of pain and hyperalgesia. Discharge of injured nociceptors has been presumed to play a role in generating the pain. However, A fibers, but not C fibers, in the injured L5 spinal nerve have been shown to develop spontaneous activity. Moreover, an L5 dorsal root rhizotomy does not reverse this pain behavior, suggesting that signals from other uninjured spinal nerves are involved. We asked if abnormal activity develops in an adjacent, uninjured root. Single nerve fiber recordings were made from the L4 spinal nerve after ligation and transection of the L5 spinal nerve. Within 1 d of the lesion, spontaneous activity developed in approximately half of the C fiber afferents. This spontaneous activity was at a low level (median rate, seven action potentials/5 min), originated distal to the dorsal root ganglion, and was present in nociceptive fibers with cutaneous receptive fields. The incidence and level of spontaneous activity were similar 1 week after injury. The early onset of spontaneous activity in uninjured nociceptive afferents could be the signal that produces the central sensitization responsible for the development of mechanical hyperalgesia. Because L4 afferents comingle with degenerating L5 axons in the peripheral nerve, we hypothesize that products associated with Wallerian degeneration lead to an alteration in the properties of the adjacent, uninjured afferents.

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