In humans, inhibitory jaw reflexes can be depressed by painful stimulation of remote parts of the body. The underlying mechanisms may involve diffuse noxious inhibitory controls (DNIC). Animal experiments have shown that the neurons which may mediate DNIC show spatial encoding (i.e. their responses vary in relation to the size of the body area being stimulated). The aim of this study was to investigate whether the modulation of an inhibitory jaw reflex shows similar spatial dependency. Electromyographic recordings were made in 9 subjects, from a masseter muscle that was activated to a level equivalent to 10% of that obtained during a maximum voluntary contraction. Reflex inhibitions were evoked by electrical stimuli to the upper lip, either alone (controls) or during the application of conditioning stimuli (47°C water) to the fingers, the hand, the half forearm or the whole forearm. Conditioning stimuli applied to the larger but not to the smaller areas resulted in significant modulations of the reflex. There was a significant correlation between stimulus area and reflex magnitude. These results demonstrate a spatial dependency for the modulation of an inhibitory jaw reflex by painful stimuli – a further parallel with DNIC as studied on single neurons in animals.
- Diffuse noxious inhibitory controls (DNIC)