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Pain. 2014 Feb;155(2):210-6. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2013.12.010. Epub 2013 Dec 12.

Constructing and deconstructing the gate theory of pain.

Author information

1
Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794, USA. Electronic address: lorne.mendell@stonybrook.edu.

Abstract

The gate theory of pain, published by Ronald Melzack and Patrick Wall in Science in 1965, was formulated to provide a mechanism for coding the nociceptive component of cutaneous sensory input. The theory dealt explicitly with the apparent conflict in the 1960s between the paucity of sensory neurons that responded selectively to intense stimuli and the well-established finding that stimulation of the small fibers in peripheral nerves is required for the stimulus to be described as painful. It incorporated recently discovered mechanisms of presynaptic control of synaptic transmission from large and small sensory afferents, which was suggested to "gate" incoming information depending on the balance between these inputs. Other important features included the convergence of small and large sensory inputs on spinal neurons that transmitted the sensory information to the forebrain as well as the ability of descending control pathways to affect the biasing established by the gate. The clarity of the model and its description gave this article immediate visibility, with numerous attempts made to test its various predictions. Although subsequent experiments and clinical findings have made clear that the model is not correct in detail, the general ideas put forth in the article and the experiments they prompted in both animals and patients have transformed our understanding of pain mechanisms.

KEYWORDS:

Dorsal horn; Dorsal root potentials; Gate theory; Nociceptor; Presynaptic inhibition; Substantia gelatinosa; TENS

PMID:
24334188
PMCID:
PMC4009371
DOI:
10.1016/j.pain.2013.12.010
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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