Spatial and temporal variation of microstimulation thresholds for inhibiting the tail-flick reflex from the rat's rostral medial medulla

I. D. Hentall, N. M. Barbaro, H. L. Fields

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11 Scopus citations


Suppression of the tail-flick reflex by microstimulation of the rostral medial medulla in rats lightly anesthetized with barbiturates was studied with regard to spatial and temporal variations in electrical threshold. Trains of constant-current pulses with linearly descending amplitudes (called 'ramps') were passed through the extracellular brain microelectrode during noxious heating of the tail. The pulse amplitude at the time of the reflex, after allowance for conduction and reaction latencies, was taken as the threshold reading. This new method revealed a range of vertical electrode positions corresponding roughly to the nucleus raphe magnus, where the thresholds tended to be lowest (a mean of 4.1 μA for 0.4-ms pulses delivered at 50 Hz). In confirmation of the technique's validity neither the duration of the ramp nor its starting amplitude, within their useful range, significantly affected the measured threshold. Pronounced temporal fluctuation was seen in thresholds measured every 2 min. Spatial variability within the low-threshold region and differences between preparations were statistically much smaller sources of variation. The temporal fluctuation appeared to have a stationary mean for at least 20 min under constant conditions of anesthesia. In some experiments, action potentials from single neurons were recorded through the stimulating electrode, and classified into those inhibited during the tail-flick (off-cells), those excited (on-cells), and those unaffected (neutral cells). The thresholds where off-cells exhibited their maximum action potential were on average significantly lower than corresponding thresholds for on-cells. Short-range (<0.2 mm) spatial variations in the threshold appeared however to be uncorrelated with the distance to an individual recorded off-cell or on-cell. The temporal fluctuations are suggested to reflect the profound cyclical changes in firing state of off-cells and on-cells that have been reported previously from barbiturate-anesthetized rats.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)156-162
Number of pages7
JournalBrain research
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - May 10 1991


  • Analgesia
  • Brainstem
  • Electrical threshold
  • Nucleus raphe magnus
  • Single-neuron recording

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Biology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neuroscience(all)


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