The goal of this study was to determine the capacity of primary afferent nociceptive fibers (nociceptors) to encode information about noxious mechanical stimuli in primates. Teased-fiber techniques were used to record from 14 A-fiber nociceptors and 18 C-fiber nociceptors that innervated the hairy skin. Stimulus-response functions were examined with an ascending series of force-controlled stimuli. Stimulus-interaction effects were examined with use of a series of paired stimuli in which the interval between the stimulus pairs was varied systematically. Both A-fiber and C-fiber nociceptors exhibited a slowly adapting response to the stepped force stimuli. The response of the A fibers increased monotonically with increasing force, whereas the response of the C fibers reached a plateau at low force levels. The slope of the stimulus-response function for the A fibers was significantly steeper than that for the C fibers, and the total response was greater. The A fibers also provided more discriminative information regarding stimulus intensity. The C fibers demonstrated a significant fatigue in response when the interstimulus interval between the paired stimuli was ≤150 s, whereas the A fibers did not demonstrate a significant fatigue until the interstimulus interval was ≤30 s. This fatigue in response was not due to changes in tissue compliance. These results suggest that A- and C-fiber nociceptors have different mechanical transduction mechanisms. A-fiber nociceptors exhibit steeper stimulus-response functions and less fatigue than C-fiber nociceptors.
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