The effect was studied of various conditioning stimuli on the threshold of single C-fibers near their spinal terminals. Spikes were recorded in L6 and L7 dorsal root ganglia of cats. A stimulating electrode in the superficial dorsal horn delivered periodic pulses whose widths were adjusted automatically to near threshold for antidromic spike production. Most units were classified according to their adequate cutaneous stimuli, as C-mechanoreceptors, high-threshold mechanoreceptors, or polymodal nociceptors. Orthodromic activity in all units increased their threshold for up to several minutes; the maximum and rate of decay depended on the amount of activity. This phenomenon parallels the hyperpolarizing afterpotential of C-fibers in peripheral nerve and, we suggest, is probably due to the aftereffect of impulses. Cutaneous conditioning stimuli were applied for 10-20s near the receptive fields of tested units, but without activating them. During the brushing of skin hair, all threshold changes were decreases; during pinching most changes were increases; during noxious heating the numbers of increases and decreases were similar. It will be necessary to analyze the responses of postsynaptic cells in order to know the physiological significance of these threshold changes. Stimulation in the nucleus raphe magnus caused in half the units higher intraspinal thresholds. If this result is causally related to the previously reported inhibition of neuronal responses in the dorsal horn by the nucleus raphe magnus (NRM), then increased thresholds could reflect either direct presynaptic inhibition or facilitation of inhibitory connections. No correlation between receptive-field classification and the response of terminals to natural cutaneous stimulation or stimulation of the NRM could be discovered. However, the terminals of all kinds of C-fibers differ from A-fibers in their reaction to noxious cutaneous and NRM stimulation, suggesting they are subject to a different system of control.
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