Little is known about the relationship between the branching structure and function of physiologically identified cutaneous nociceptor terminals. The axonal arborization itself, however, has an impact on the afferent signal that is conveyed along the parent axon to the CNS. We therefore developed electrophysiological techniques to investigate the branching structure of cutaneous nociceptors. Single-fiber recordings were obtained from physiologically identified nociceptors that innervated the hairy skin of the monkey. Electrodes for transcutaneous stimulation were fixed at two separate locations inside the receptive field. For 32 Aδ-fiber nociceptors, distinct steps in latency of the recorded action potential were observed as the intensity of the transcutaneous electrical stimulus increased, indicating discrete sites for action potential initiation. The number of discrete latencies at each stimulation location ranged from 1 to 9 (3.7 ± 0.2; mean ± SE) and the mean size of the latency step was 9.9 ± 1.0 ms (range: 0.4- 89.1 ms). For seven Aδ fibers, collision techniques were used to locate the position of the branch point where the daughter fibers that innervated the two locations within the receptive field join the parent axon. To correct for changes in electrical excitability at the peripheral terminals, collision experiments between the two skin locations and between each skin location and a nerve trunk electrode were necessary. Nine branch points were studied in the seven Aδ fibers; the mean propagation time from the action potential initiation site to the branch point was 31 ± 5 ms corresponding to a distance of 54 ± 10 mm. Almost half of the daughter branches were unmyelinated. These results demonstrate that collision techniques can be used to study the functional anatomy of physiologically identified nociceptive afferent terminals. Furthermore these results indicate that some nociceptive afferents branch quite proximal to their peripheral receptive field. Occlusion of action potential activity can occur in these long branches such that the shorter branches dominate in the response to natural stimuli.
ASJC Scopus subject areas