The peripheral neural mechanism of pain to mechanical stimuli remains elusive. C-fiber nociceptors do not appear to play a major role in mechanical pain sensation, because the stimulus-response function of mechanically sensitive C-fiber nociceptors to punctate mechanical stimuli applied to the most sensitive region in the receptive field (the hot spot) reaches a plateau at force levels insufficient to produce pain in humans. However, studies at the hot spot give an incomplete understanding of the inputs of nociceptors to the spinal cord. To estimate how the population of nociceptors responds to a punctate stimulus, it is necessary to know how the response varies with the position within the receptive field. For A-fiber and C-fiber nociceptors, we systemically measured the response to a 100 μm wide blade stimulus as a function of position in the receptive field at different force levels. Highly reproducible receptive field response maps that contained multiple peaks and valleys were obtained. Some peaks were only 100 μm wide. As force increased, the response and width of the peaks increased, the response in valleys increased, and new peaks appeared. The averaged response across the map provides an estimate of the population response and was found to increase monotonically with force over a large stimulus range for both A-fiber and C-fiber nociceptors. These data provide evidence that both C-fiber and A-fiber nociceptors may encode high-intensity mechanical stimuli.
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