To compare the heat responses of mechanically sensitive and mechanically insensitive A-fiber nociceptors, an electrical search technique was used to locate the receptive fields of 156 A-fibers that innervated the hairy skin in the anesthetized monkey (77 Aβ-fibers, 79 Aδ-fibers). Two-thirds of these afferents were either low-threshold mechanoreceptors (n = 91) or low- threshold cold receptors (n = 11). Nine Aβ-fibers and 41 Aδ-fibers were cutaneous nociceptors, and four Aδ-fibers innervated subcutaneous tissue. The majority of cutaneous A-fiber nociceptors were heat sensitive (43/50 = 86%). Heat-insensitive cutaneous A-fiber nociceptors consisted of one cold nociceptor, three silent nociceptors, and three high-threshold mechanoreceptors. Two types of response were observed to an intense heat stimulus (53°C, 30 s). Type I (n = 26) was characterized by a long latency (mean: 5 s) and a late peak discharge (16 s). Type II (n = 17) was characterized by a short latency (0.2 s) and an early peak discharge (0.5 s). Type I fibers exhibited faster conduction velocities (25 vs. 14 m/s) and higher heat thresholds (>53 vs. 47°C, 1-s duration) than type II fibers. The possibility that the type I heat response was a result of sensitization was tested in three fibers by determining the heat threshold to 30-s duration stimuli (42-46°C). For this long stimulus duration heat thresholds were reproducible across multiple runs, and the threshold to the 1-s duration stimulus was not altered by these tests. Thus fibers with a type I heat response were not high-threshold mechanoreceptors that developed a heat response through sensitization. Fibers with a type II heat response had significantly higher mechanical thresholds (median: 15 bar) than fibers with a type I heat response (5 bar). This finding accounts for the observation that type II heat responses were infrequently observed in earlier studies wherein the search technique depended on mechanical responsiveness. Fibers with a type II response exhibited a graded response to heat stimuli, marked fatigue to repeated applications of heat stimuli, and adaptation to sustained heat stimuli similar to that seen in C-fiber nociceptors. First pain sensation to heat is served by type II A-fiber nociceptors that are mechanically insensitive. Type I A-fiber nociceptors likely signal pain to long-duration heat stimuli and may signal first pain sensation to mechanical stimuli.
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