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J Neurophysiol. 2016 Jul 1;116(1):159-70. doi: 10.1152/jn.00237.2016. Epub 2016 Apr 20.

Neuronal hyperexcitability in the ventral posterior thalamus of neuropathic rats: modality selective effects of pregabalin.

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Department of Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology, University College London, London, United Kingdom
Department of Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology, University College London, London, United Kingdom.


Neuropathic pain represents a substantial clinical challenge; understanding the underlying neural mechanisms and back-translation of therapeutics could aid targeting of treatments more effectively. The ventral posterior thalamus (VP) is the major termination site for the spinothalamic tract and relays nociceptive activity to the somatosensory cortex; however, under neuropathic conditions, it is unclear how hyperexcitability of spinal neurons converges onto thalamic relays. This study aimed to identify neural substrates of hypersensitivity and the influence of pregabalin on central processing. In vivo electrophysiology was performed to record from VP wide dynamic range (WDR) and nociceptive-specific (NS) neurons in anesthetized spinal nerve-ligated (SNL), sham-operated, and naive rats. In neuropathic rats, WDR neurons had elevated evoked responses to low- and high-intensity punctate mechanical stimuli, dynamic brushing, and innocuous and noxious cooling, but less so to heat stimulation, of the receptive field. NS neurons in SNL rats also displayed increased responses to noxious punctate mechanical stimulation, dynamic brushing, noxious cooling, and noxious heat. Additionally, WDR, but not NS, neurons in SNL rats exhibited substantially higher rates of spontaneous firing, which may correlate with ongoing pain. The ratio of WDR-to-NS neurons was comparable between SNL and naive/sham groups, suggesting relatively few NS neurons gain sensitivity to low-intensity stimuli leading to a "WDR phenotype." After neuropathy was induced, the proportion of cold-sensitive WDR and NS neurons increased, supporting the suggestion that changes in frequency-dependent firing and population coding underlie cold hypersensitivity. In SNL rats, pregabalin inhibited mechanical and heat responses but not cold-evoked or elevated spontaneous activity.


in vivo electrophysiology; nociceptive specific; spinal nerve ligation; ventral posterolateral thalamus; wide dynamic range

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