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J Comp Neurol. 2014 Apr 1;522(5):1048-71. doi: 10.1002/cne.23461.

Organization of sensory input to the nociceptive-specific cutaneous trunk muscle reflex in rat, an effective experimental system for examining nociception and plasticity.

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Department of Anatomical Sciences and Neurobiology, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, 40202; Department of Neurological Surgery, Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, 40202.


Detailed characterization of neural circuitries furthers our understanding of how nervous systems perform specific functions and allows the use of those systems to test hypotheses. We have characterized the sensory input to the cutaneous trunk muscle (CTM; also cutaneus trunci [rat] or cutaneus maximus [mouse]) reflex (CTMR), which manifests as a puckering of the dorsal thoracolumbar skin and is selectively driven by noxious stimuli. CTM electromyography and neurogram recordings in naïve rats revealed that CTMR responses were elicited by natural stimuli and electrical stimulation of all segments from C4 to L6, a much greater extent of segmental drive to the CTMR than previously described. Stimulation of some subcutaneous paraspinal tissue can also elicit this reflex. Using a selective neurotoxin, we also demonstrate differential drive of the CTMR by trkA-expressing and nonexpressing small-diameter afferents. These observations highlight aspects of the organization of the CTMR system that make it attractive for studies of nociception and anesthesiology and plasticity of primary afferents, motoneurons, and the propriospinal system. We use the CTMR system to demonstrate qualitatively and quantitatively that experimental pharmacological treatments can be compared with controls applied either to the contralateral side or to another segment, with the remaining segments providing controls for systemic or other treatment effects. These data indicate the potential for using the CTMR system as both an invasive and a noninvasive quantitative assessment tool providing improved statistical power and reduced animal use.


anesthesiology; animal models; pain; pharmacology; plasticity; sensory neurons; spinal cord

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