The aim of this study was to determine the discharge and receptive field properties of spinal cord neurons with ankle input in spinal segments L4-6 in the rat, both under control conditions and during the course of an adjuvant-induced unilateral inflammation in the ankle. The extent of receptive fields in the skin and deep tissue was assessed using brush, pinch and compression stimuli. Neurons were categorized as nociceptive-specific or wide-dynamic-range neurons on the basis of their response thresholds and responses to suprathreshold stimuli. At all stages of inflammation (2, 6, 13 and 20 days post inoculation) the population of neurons with ankle input showed differences from the population of neurons with ankle input in control rats. There was a reduction in the number of neurons that appeared as nociceptive specific and a concomitant increase in the number of neurons showing a wide-dynamic-range response profile. The receptive fields of the neurons with ankle input were markedly larger in rats with inflammation in the ankle region and mainly spread proximally on the ipsilateral hindlimb and also to the abdomen and tail in some cases. There was also an increase in the number of neurons with contralateral excitatory inputs. The mechanical thresholds at the ankle joint and proximal parts of the ipsilateral hindlimb were less in arthritic rats than in controls. The proportion of spontaneously active neurons was also increased in rats during the initial and later stages of inflammation, although there was no significant increase in the mean spontaneous discharge frequency. These data show that there are long-term changes in the receptive field and response properties of neurons in intact rats with chronic unilateral adjuvant-induced inflammation similar to those described previously in spinal cats with acute inflammation (Neugebauer and Schaible 1990). It is presumed that similar afferent and spinal mechanisms are at work under acute and chronic inflammatory conditions which produce hyperexcitability in spinal neurons with joint input.
- Spinal cord