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Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 2004 Oct;46(2):123-30.

Evolution of nociception in vertebrates: comparative analysis of lower vertebrates.

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School of Biological Sciences, University of Liverpool, The BioScience Building, Liverpool, Merseyside L69 7ZB, UK.


Nociception is an important sensory system of major fundamental and clinical relevance. The nociceptive system of higher vertebrates is well studied with a wealth of information about nociceptor properties, involvement of the central nervous system and the in vivo responses to a noxious experience are already characterised. However, relatively little is known about nociception in lower vertebrates and this review brings together a variety of studies to understand how this information can inform the evolution of nociception in vertebrates. It has been demonstrated that teleost fish possess nociceptors innervated by the trigeminal nerve and that these are physiologically similar to those found in higher vertebrates. Opioid receptors and endogenous opioids are found in the brain and spinal cord of the fishes and morphine blocks avoidance learning using electric shock as well as reducing nociceptive behavioural and physiological responses to noxious stimulation. Comparative analysis of the fishes and higher vertebrates show that fish possess less C fibres than higher vertebrates. The electrophysiological properties of fish nociceptors are almost identical to those found in higher vertebrates suggesting the evolution of these properties occurred before the emergence of the fish groups.

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