Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 284–306 | Cite as

Inhibitory and excitatory factors influencing the receptive fields of lamina 5 spinal cord cells

  • P. Hillman
  • P. D. Wall


Examination of cutaneous receptive fields (RFs) of lamina 5 cells in the lumbar spinal cord of decerebrate cats shows them to have three distinct zones with respect to mechanical and electrical stimulation. The mean response rate to both mechanical and electrical stimulation in zone 1 increases steadily up to the highest strengths used; in zone 2, surrounding zone 1 mainly proximally, mild stimuli reduce the mean rate, stronger stimuli increase it; in zone 3, mainly proximal to zone 2, all stimuli reduce the rate.

Temporally, zone 1, electric shocks near threshold produce bursts of firing followed by inhibition. With increased stimulus strength, the bursts lengthen to a second or more. In zones 2 and 3, inhibition at all strengths is preceded at higher strengths by bursts of firing.

Cold-blocking the spinal cord at lower thoracic levels reversibly increases the ongoing activity of these cells, increases the area of zones 1 and 2, and almost completely suppresses all inhibition.

Stimulation of dorsal columns and threshold stimulation of distant dorsal roots inhibits ongoing and induced activity. Barbiturate decreases ongoing activity and the duration of firing produced by cutaneous electrical stimulation but does not decrease inhibition.

These results are consistent with a model in which low-threshold fibres are excitatory only over a small central area of the RF of a lamina 5 cell (zone 1), high threshold fibres are excitatory over a larger area (zones 1 and 2), and low threshold fibres are inhibitory over the entire receptive field (zones 1, 2 and 3) with a slower time-course. This inhibition is tonically enhanced by descending influences in the decerebrate cat.

It is suggested that the high and low threshold fibres correspond approximately to the small and large diametre fibres whose balance is the basis for the coding of pain in the theory of melzack and wall.

Key Words

Cutaneous receptive fields Spinal cord Cat Pain 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1969

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. Hillman
    • 1
  • P. D. Wall
    • 1
  1. 1.M.R.C. Cerebral Functions Research Group, Department of AnatomyUniversity CollegeLondon

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