In cat there are two portions of the spinothalamic tract (STT)-a ventral component, the ventral spinothalamic tract (VSTT) made up of axons of cells of spinal cord laminae IV-X, and a dorsolateral component, the dorsolateral spinothalamic tract (DSTT) made up of axons of cells in lamina I of the spinal cord dorsal horn. This study was designed to evaluate thalamic neuronal responses to cutaneous noxious thermal stimuli and to determine the functional importance of pathways ascending in the ventral and dorsolateral portions of the spinal cord, ipsilateral to the thalamic recording site and contralateral to the hindlimb stimulation region, for transmission of nociceptive information to the thalamus. Extracellular single-unit recordings were made from 45 neurons in the ventrobasal complex (VBX) of cat thalamus. Thirty-five of these units responded either exclusively or preferentially to noxious cutaneous stimuli. Responses to noxious thermal stimuli applied to the unit's receptive fields were obtained, and then the effects on these responses of blocking conduction through the dorsolateral funiculus (DLF) and the ventrolateral quadrant (VQ) of the thoracic spinal cord ipsilateral to the thalamic recording site were determined. DLF and VQ conduction blocks were accomplished with the use of a cold probe technique and, at times, surgical lesions of the appropriate portion of the spinal cord. The nociceptive units were located in the periphery of the ventral posterior lateral nucleus (VPL) of the thalamus. Their locations corresponded to the somatotopic organization of VPL. Nociceptive thermal responses were found in both high-threshold (HT) (10 cells) and wide-dynamic-range (WDR) (22 cells) units. The receptive fields of these units were generally small and were located on the hindlimb contralateral to the recording site. The thermoreceptive units had thresholds between 44 and 48°C and were able to code for stimulus intensity. Nine of the 35 nociceptive units demonstrated a decrease in response and two units an increase in response to noxious cutaneous stimulation during DLF block ipsilateral to the recording site and contralateral to the cutaneous stimulation site, whereas four units demonstrated a decrease in response and one unit an increase in response to noxious thermal cutaneous stimulation during VQ block ipsilateral to the recording site and contralateral to the cutaneous stimulation site. None of the units that showed a decreased responsiveness during VQ block also showed a decreased responsiveness during DLF block, and none of the units that showed a decreased responsiveness during DLF block also showed a decreased responsiveness during VQ block. These results indicate that nociceptive information is transmitted rostrally through both the DLF and the VQ, supporting the hypothesis that the DSTT is a potentially important nociceptive pathway.
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