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J Neurophysiol. 1997 Nov;78(5):2296-308.

Altered receptive fields and sensory modalities of rat VPL thalamic neurons during spinal strychnine-induced allodynia.

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Department of Physiology, Medical Sciences Building, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M5S 1A8, Canada.


Altered receptive fields and sensory modalities of rat VPL thalamic neurons during spinal strychnine-induced allodynia. J. Neurophysiol. 78: 2296-2308, 1997. Allodynia is an unpleasant sequela of neural injury or neuropathy that is characterized by the inappropriate perception of light tactile stimuli as pain. This condition may be modeled experimentally in animals by the intrathecal (i.t.) administration of strychnine, a glycine receptor antagonist. Thus after i.t. strychnine, otherwise innocuous tactile stimuli evoke behavioral and autonomic responses that normally are elicited only by noxious stimuli. The current study was undertaken to determine how i.t. strychnine alters the spinal processing of somatosensory input by examining the responses of neurons in the ventroposterolateral thalamic nucleus. Extracellular, single-unit recordings were conducted in the lateral thalamus of 19 urethan-anaesthetized, male, Wistar rats (342 +/- 44 g; mean +/- SD). Receptive fields and responses to noxious and innocuous cutaneous stimuli were determined for 19 units (1 per animal) before and immediately after i.t. strychnine (40 microgram). Eighteen of the animals developed allodynia as evidenced by the ability of otherwise innocuous brush or air jet stimuli to evoke cardiovascular and/or motor reflexes. All (3) of the nociceptive-specific units became responsive to brush stimulation after i.t. strychnine, and one became sensitive to brushing over an expanded receptive field. Expansion of the receptive field, as determined by brush stimulation, also was exhibited by all of the low-threshold mechanoreceptive units (14) and wide dynamic range units (2) after i.t. strychnine. The use of air jet stimuli at fixed cutaneous sites also provided evidence of receptive field expansion, because significant unit responses to air jet developed at 13 cutaneous sites (on 7 animals) where an identical stimulus was ineffective in evoking a unit response before i.t. strychnine. However, the magnitude of the unit response to cutaneous air jet stimulation was not changed at sites that already had been sensitive to this stimulus before i.t. strychnine. The onset of allodynia corresponded with the onset of the altered unit responses (i.e., lowered threshold/receptive field expansion) for the majority of animals (9), but the altered unit response either terminated concurrently with symptoms of allodynia (6) or, more frequently, outlasted the symptoms of allodynia (10) as the effects of strychnine declined. The present results demonstrate that the direct, receptor-mediated actions of strychnine on the spinal processing of sensory information are reflected by changes in the receptive fields and response properties of nociceptive and nonnociceptive thalamic neurons. These changes are consistent with the involvement of thalamocortical mechanisms in the expression of strychnine-induced allodynia and, moreover, suggest that i.t. strychnine also produces changes in innocuous tactile sensation.

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