Interactions between brainstem and trigeminal neurons detected by cross- spectral analysis

I. D. Hentall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Cells in the nucleus raphe magnus that are inhibited by noxious skin stimuli (off-cells) have been postulated to suppress pain by continuously inhibiting spinal and trigeminal nociceptive neurons. To test this hypothesis, spontaneous activity was simultaneously recorded from off-cells (n = 15) and wide-dynamic range cells (n = 27) of the trigeminal complex (subnucleus interpolaris), in rats anesthetized with pentobarbital. Most off- cells (n = 14) had rhythmic interspike intervals, their modes averaging 106ms. No trigeminal cell fired rhythmically. Rhythmic firing was defined quantitatively: the autospectrum's peak power had to exceed 1.75 times its asymptote. This formula was obtained by generalizing from a natural cut-off in the theoretical autospectrum for serially uncorrelated, gamma-distributed intervals, whose firing can be varied from Poissonian to highly regular by adjusting one parameter. It encompasses the qualitative judgement of autocorrelograms commonly made in neurophysiology. Cross-correlograms (n = 29) appeared noisy and otherwise featureless. However, their power spectra (cross-periodograms) sometimes showed significant peaks, compared with simulated non-interactive distributions. The latter were generated by interchanging the raphe interval sequences at one random point (as in cutting a deck of cards), thus retaining most of their serial correlation. Of 29 cross-periodograms, 21 were significant at 1 to 13 frequencies (100 points, 0.4 to 39Hz). These frequencies were often near the peak raphe power, and sometimes near its harmonics too. Furthermore, cross-spectral phase angles at peak power were non-uniform, most falling between 0 and 180 degrees (unit vector sum 60°, n = 20). To understand why the frequency domain gave better detection, cross-spectra and cross-correlations were modeled theoretically by convolving idealized input autocorrelations and synaptic response functions. This demonstrated that rhythmic firing is insufficient for better frequency- domain detection, and that serially correlated input intervals or non- additive synaptic responses are necessary. The conclusion was confirmed by stochastic simulation of a simple non-additive synapse, that required successful input spikes to fall within a specified interval of the preceding spike. Experimentally, serial correlation was found in 12 of the 15 raphe cells, and in 20 of the 27 trigeminal cells. It is proposed that the weak experimental cross-correlograms arise because many asynchronous raphe inputs converge on each trigeminal cell, possibly to optimize the resting suppression of pain. The distribution of cross-spectral phase angles at peak raphe power suggested that raphe spikes arriving at the synapses' preferred interval cause a fall in trigeminal activity. In general, cross-spectral analysis can sometimes uncover influences hidden in cross-correlograms, but the firing of one neuron must be rhythmic and non-renewal, or else certain input intervals must be favored in synaptic transmission. (C) 2000 IBRO.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)601-610
Number of pages10
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2000


  • Cross-correlation
  • Gamma distribution
  • Pain
  • Point process
  • Raphe magnus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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