Sensitization of insensitive branches of C nociceptors in human skin.

M. Schmelz, R. Schmidt, M. Ringkamp, H. O. Handwerker, H. E. Torebjörk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


1. Eighteen cutaneous mechanosensitive C nociceptors were recorded from the peroneal nerves of healthy human subjects. Their identity was continuously monitored by intracutaneous electrical stimulation, and their activation by mechanical or transcutaneous electrical stimulation was detected by slowing of conduction velocity during the relative refractory period. 2. Mechanoreceptive fields (mRFs) mapped with suprathreshold von Frey hair stimuli covered an area of 99 +/‐ 21 mm2 (mean +/‐ S.E.M.). Two of the units had separate mRFs, with borders about 0.5‐1.5 cm apart from each other and the largest of these units had a maximal diameter of 4.5 cm. 3. Successive topical application of mustard oil and capsaicin induced expansions of mRFs by 57 +/‐ 14 mm2 in eight of fifteen units. 4. In twelve units transcutaneous electrical stimulation delivered through a pointed electrode was used for mapping the electroreceptive fields (eRFs). The borders of the eRFs and the mRFs were identical for two of twelve units only. In the other ten units additional mechano‐insensitive areas (55 +/‐ 22 mm2) were detected from which transcutaneous electrical stimuli could activate the respective unit. 5. Application of mustard oil and capsaicin to these mechano‐insensitive areas sensitized five of eight units to mechanical stimuli. In these cases the mRF after sensitization exactly corresponded to the eRF. 6. It is concluded that there are insensitive branches in human mechanosensitive cutaneous C nociceptors that can be detected by transcutaneous electrical stimulation and sensitized by topical application of chemical irritants. Activation of those branches in the course of inflammatory processes may contribute to spatial summation at central synapses and hence to hyperalgesia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)389-394
Number of pages6
JournalThe Journal of physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 15 1994
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology


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