The spinothalamic tract: An examination of the cells of origin of the dorsolateral and ventral spinothalamic pathways in cats

M. W. Jones*, A. V. Apkarian, R. T. Stevens, C. J. Hodge

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


The locations of Spinothalamic neurons and the funicular trajectories of their axons were studied in cats by retrograde transport of horseradish peroxidase (HRP). Five animals were used as controls to determine the cervical and lumbar laminar distributions of neurons contributing to the Spinothalamic tract. An additional eight animals were used to determine the funicular trajectories of the Spinothalamic axons of lumbar neurons by utilizing a series of thoracic spinal cord lesions in conjunction with retrograde transport of HRP from the sensory thalamus. Three of these animals underwent midthoracic ventral quadrant lesions, four animals underwent midthoracic dorsolateral funiculus lesions, and one animal underwent total spinal cord transection sparing the dorsal columns. The locations of the cells containing the HRP reaction product were then determined after a 3– to 5– day survival time, and the patterns of labeled cell locations of the lesion groups were compared to the control group patterns. In the lesioned animals, the cervical Spinothalamic cell locations were used as a control to confirm the uniformity of the injection sites, transport and tissue processing. The major finding of this study is that there exist two distinct components of the spinothalamic tract. The dorsolateral Spinothalamic tract (DSTT) is made up of axons originating in contralateral spinal cord lamina I and has negligible contribution from the deeper spinal cord laminae. The axons of lamina I cells cross segmentally and ascend exclusively in the dorsolateral funiculus (DLF). The DSTT comprises approximately 25% of the total spinothalamic input from the lumbar enlargement. The ventral Spinothalamic tract (VSTT) is made up of axons originating in spinal cord laminae IV–V and VII–X. Very few lamina I cells contribute axons to the VSTT. This crossed pathway ascends in the ventrolateral and ventromedial portions of the spinal cord. No cells contributing to the Spinothalamic tract were identified in spinal cord segments caudal to a dorsal column sparing lesion, indicating that there are no Spinothalamic tract axons traveling in the dorsal columns. These results expand the classical concept of information processing by the Spinothalamic tract. The DSTT is made up of lamina I cell axons. All lamina I Spinothalamic cells respond exclusively to noxious peripheral stimuli. Hence the DSTT is a major nociceptive‐specific ascending spinal pathway, yet lies outside the confines normally assigned to the spinothalamic tract. In contrast, the spinothalamic tract axons ascending in the traditional ventral location originate predominantly from neurons of wide dynamic range as well as from low‐threshold neurons. These findings have novel implications concerning the relative importance, for nociception, of lamina I and deeper laminar input to the thalamus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)349-361
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 15 1987


  • dorsolateral funiculus
  • horseradish peroxidase
  • spinal pathways
  • thalamus
  • ventral funiculi

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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