Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 511–522

Responses of group IV afferent units from skeletal muscle to stretch, contraction and chemical stimulation

  • K. D. Kniffki
  • S. Mense
  • R. F. Schmidt


In an attempt to differentiate between nociceptive group IV muscle receptors and “ergoceptive” ones, the discharges of single group IV fibres from skeletal muscle in response to local pressure, sustained stretch, repetitive contraction and intra-arterial injections of bradykinin, 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), potassium, phosphate, and lactate were studied in anaesthetized cats.

Of the 75 fibres of the study, 5 units were activated by sustained stretch, the responses occurring with a delay. These stretch-sensitive units could not be activated by local pressure or muscular contraction. Thirteen group IV afferents raised their discharge frequency during repetitive contractions. Some of the units responded immediately with the onset of the contractions, whereas the others showed a pronounced delay.

Forty-six units were tested with all or most of the above mechanical and chemical stimuli. In 32 afferents a response to at least one of the stimuli was present. Taking only these units into account, several groups of receptors could be distinguished by their different response combinations. One group was activated by pain-producing substances, but not by muscular activity and thus showed nociceptive properties. Another group showed a raised activity during muscular contractions but did not respond to the algesic agents bradykinin and 5-HT. Units belonging to this group might serve as “ergoceptors”. The borderline between the two groups was not sharp, a considerable number of group IV afferents was found which had both nociceptive and “ergoceptive” properties.

Key words

Muscle group IV afferent units Muscle pain Chemo-nociceptors Mechanoreceptors Contraction-sensitive receptors 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Abbott, B. C., Howarth, J.V.: Heat studies in excitable tissues. Physiol. Rev. 53, 120–158 (1973)Google Scholar
  2. Alam, M., Smirk, F.H.: Observations in man upon a blood pressure raising reflex arising from the voluntary muscles. J. Physiol. (Lond.) 89, 372–383 (1937)Google Scholar
  3. Alam, M., Smirk, F.H.: Observations in man on a pulse-accelerating reflex from the voluntary muscles of the legs. J. Physiol. (Lond.) 92, 167–177 (1938)Google Scholar
  4. Asmussen, E., Nielsen, M.: Experiments on nervous factors controlling respiration and circulation during exercise employing blocking of the blood flow. Acta physiol. scand. 60, 103–111 (1964)Google Scholar
  5. Bessou, P., Laporte, Y.: Activation des fibres afférentes amyéliniques d'origine musculaire. C. R. Soc. Biol. (Paris) 152, 1587–1590 (1958)Google Scholar
  6. Coester, N., Elliott, J. C., Luft, U. C.: Plasma electrolytes, pH, and ECG during and after exhaustive exercise. J. appl. Physiol. 34, 677–682 (1973)Google Scholar
  7. Coote, J. H., Perez-Gonzales, J. F.: The response of some sympathetic neurones to volleys in various afferent nerves. J. Physiol. (Lond.) 208, 261–278 (1970)Google Scholar
  8. Coote, J.H., Hilton, S.M., Perez-Gonzales, J.F.: The reflex nature of the pressure response to muscular exercise. J. Physiol. (Lond.) 215, 789–804 (1971)Google Scholar
  9. DeJours, P.: Control of respiration in muscular exercise. In: Handbook of Physiology, Section 3: Respiration, Vol. I, O. Fenn and H. Rahn (Eds.), American Physiological Society, Washington, D.C. 1964Google Scholar
  10. Fock, S., Mense, S.: Excitatory effects of 5-hydroxytryptamine, histamine and potassium ions on muscular group IV afferent units: a comparison with bradykinin. Brain Res. 105, 459–469 (1976)Google Scholar
  11. Franz, M., Mense, S.: Muscle receptors with group IV afferent fibres responding to application of bradykinin. Brain Res. 92, 369–383 (1975)Google Scholar
  12. Gordon, G.: The mechanisms of the vasomotor reflexes produced by stimulating mammalian sensory nerves. J. Physiol. (Lond.) 102, 95–107 (1943)Google Scholar
  13. Guzman, F., Braun, C., Lim, R. K. S.: Visceral pain and the pseudaffective response to intraarterial injection of bradykinin and other algesic agents. Arch. int. Pharmacodyn. 136, 353–384 (1962)Google Scholar
  14. Hertel, H.-C., Howaldt, B., Mense, S.: Responses of group IV and group III muscle afferents to thermal stimuli. Brain Res. 113, 201–205 (1976)Google Scholar
  15. Hník, P., Holas, M., Krekule, I., Kříž, N., Mejsnar, J., Smieško, V., Ujec, E., Vyskočil, F.: Work-induced potassium changes in skeletal muscle and effluent venous blood assessed by liquid ion-exchanger microelectrodes. Pflügers Arch. 362, 85–94 (1976)Google Scholar
  16. Iggo, A.: Non-myelinated afferent fibres from mammalian skeletal muscle. J. Physiol. (Lond.) 155, 52–53P (1961)Google Scholar
  17. Johansson, B.: Circulatory responses to stimulation of somatic afferents. Acta physiol. scand. 75, Suppl. 198, 1–91 (1962)Google Scholar
  18. Kalia, M., Senapati, B.P., Panda, A.: Reflex increase in ventilation by muscle receptors with non-medullated fibres (C-fibres). J. appl. Physiol. 32, 189–193 (1972)Google Scholar
  19. Kao, F.F.: An experimental study of the pathway involved in exercise hyperpnoea employing cross-circulation technique. In: The Regulation of Human Respiration (eds. D.J.C. Cunningham, B.B. Lloyd), pp. 461–502. Oxford: Blackwell 1963Google Scholar
  20. Kellgren, J.H.: Observation on referred pain arising from muscle. Clin. Sci. 3, 175–190 (1937/38)Google Scholar
  21. Kniffki, K.-D., Mense, S., Schmidt, R. F.: Chemo- and mechanosensitivity of possible metabo- and nociceptors in skeletal muscle. Pflügers Arch. 362, R 32 (1976a)Google Scholar
  22. Kniffki, K.-D., Mense, S., Schmidt, R. F.: Mechanisms of muscle pain: a comparison with cutaneous nociception. In: Sensory Functions of the Skin in Primates, (ed. Y. Zotterman) Wenner-Gren Center International Symposium Series, Vol. 27, pp. 463–473. New York: Pergamon Press 1976bGoogle Scholar
  23. Kumazawa, T., Mizumura, K.: The polymodal C-fibre receptor in the muscle of the dog. Brain Res. 101, 589–593 (1976)Google Scholar
  24. Lim, R.K.S., Guzman, F., Rodgers, D.W., Goto, K., Braun, C., Dickerson, G.D., Engle, R.J.: Site of action of narcotic and non-narcotic analgesics determined by blocking bradykinin-evoked visceral pain. Arch. int. Pharmacodyn. 152, 25–58 (1964)Google Scholar
  25. Lindahl, O.: Experimental skin pain induced by injection of water-soluble substances in humans. Acta physiol. scand. 51, Suppl. 179, 1–90 (1961)Google Scholar
  26. Lundvall, J.: Tissue hyperosmolality as a mediator of vasodilation and transcapillary fluid flux in exercising skeletal muscle. Acta physiol. scand. Suppl. 379, 1–142 (1972)Google Scholar
  27. McCloskey, D.I., Mitchell, J.H.: Reflex cardiovascular and respiratory responses originating in exercising muscle. J. Physiol. (Lond.) 224, 173–186 (1972)Google Scholar
  28. Mense, S., Schmidt, R. F.: Activation of group IV afferent units from muscle by algesic agents. Brain Res. 72, 305–310 (1974)Google Scholar
  29. Paintal, A.S.: Functional analysis of group III afferent fibres of mammalian muscles. J. Physiol. (Lond.) 152, 250–270 (1960)Google Scholar
  30. Patterson, W.D.: Circulatory and respiratory changes in response to muscular exercise in man. J. Physiol. (Lond.) 66, 323–345 (1928)Google Scholar
  31. Radawski, D.P., Hoppe, W., Haddy, F.J.: Role of vasoactive substances in active hyperemia in skeletal muscle. Proc. Soc. exp. Biol. (N.Y.) 148, 270–276 (1975)Google Scholar
  32. Stacey, J. J.: Free nerve endings in skeletal muscle of the cat. J. Anat. (Lond.) 105, 231–254 (1969)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • K. D. Kniffki
    • 1
  • S. Mense
    • 1
  • R. F. Schmidt
    • 1
  1. 1.Physiologisches Institut der Universität KielKielFederal Republic of Germany

Personalised recommendations