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Schmerz. 2014 Jun;28(3):233-51. doi: 10.1007/s00482-014-1402-x.

[Neurobiology of visceral pain].

[Article in German]

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Physiologisches Institut, Christian-Albrechts-Universität, Olshausenstr. 40, 24098, Kiel, Deutschland,


Visceral pain is diffusely localized, referred into other tissues, frequently not correlated with visceral traumata, preferentially accompanied by autonomic and somatomotor reflexes, and associated with strong negative affective feelings. It belongs together with the somatic pain sensations and non-painful body sensations to the interoception of the body. (1) Visceral pain is correlated with the excitation of spinal (thoracolumbar, sacral) visceral afferents and (with a few exceptions) not with the excitation of vagal afferents. Spinal visceral afferents are polymodal and activated by adequate mechanical and chemical stimuli. All groups of spinal visceral afferents can be sensitized (e.g., by inflammation). Silent mechanoinsensitive spinal visceral afferents are recruited by inflammation. (2) Spinal visceral afferent neurons project into the laminae I, II (outer part IIo) and V of the spinal dorsal horn over several segments, medio-lateral over the whole width of the dorsal horn and contralateral. Their activity is synaptically transmitted in laminae I, IIo and deeper laminae to viscero-somatic convergent neurons that receive additionally afferent synaptic (mostly nociceptive) input from the skin and from deep somatic tissues of the corresponding dermatomes, myotomes and sclerotomes. (3) The second-order neurons consist of excitatory and inhibitory interneurons (about 90 % of all dorsal horn neurons) and tract neurons activated monosynaptically in lamina I by visceral afferent neurons and di- or polysynaptically in deeper laminae. (4) The sensitization of viscero-somatic convergent neurons (central sensitization) is dependent on the sensitization of spinal visceral afferent neurons, local spinal excitatory and inhibitory interneurons and supraspinal endogenous control systems. The mechanisms of this central sensitization have been little explored. (5) Viscero-somatic tract neurons project through the contralateral ventrolateral tract and presumably other tracts to the lower and upper brain stem, the hypothalamus and via the thalamus to various cortical areas. (6) Visceral pain is presumably (together with other visceral sensations and nociceptive as well as non-nociceptive somatic body sensations) primarily represented in the posterior dorsal insular cortex (primary interoceptive cortex). This cortex receives in primates its spinal synaptic inputs mainly from lamina I tract neurons via the ventromedial posterior nucleus of the thalamus. (7) The transmission of activity from visceral afferents to second-order neurons in spinal cord is modulated in an excitatory and inhibitory way by endogenous anti- and pronociceptive control systems in the lower and upper brain stem. These control systems are under cortical control. (8) Visceral pain is referred to deep somatic tissues, to the skin and to other visceral organs. This referred pain consists of spontaneous pain and mechanical hyperalgesia. The mechanisms underlying referred pain and the accompanying tissue changes have been little explored.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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