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Keywords:

  • afterdischarge;
  • bistability;
  • dorsal horn neurons;
  • nociceptive integration;
  • plateau potentials;
  • slice-intracellular technique

Abstract

Deep dorsal horn neurons (DHNs) involved in nociception can relay long-lasting inputs and generate prolonged afterdischarges believed to enhance the transfer of nociceptive responses to the brain. We addressed the role of neuronal membrane properties in shaping these responses, by recording lamina V DHNs in a slice preparation of the rat cervical spinal cord. of 256 neurons, 102 produced accelerating discharges in response to depolarizing current pulses, whereas the other neurons showed spike frequency adaptation. Two mechanisms mediated the firing acceleration: a slow inactivation of a K+ current expressed upon activation of the neuron from hyperpolarized holding potentials, and the expression of a regenerative plateau potential activating around resting membrane potential. The increase in firing frequency was much stronger when sustained by the plateau potential (71 DHNs, 28%). A few neurons produced adaptation and both types of acceleration, in different membrane potential domains, showing that the firing pattern of a deep DHN is not a rigid characteristic. Plateau potentials could be elicited by stimulation of nociceptive primary afferent fibres. The bistability associated with plateau potentials permitted afterdischarges. Because plateau potentials had slow activation kinetics and were voltage-dependent, the neurons had non-linear input–output relationships in both the amplitude and time domains. Nociceptive primary afferent stimulation elicited intense and prolonged responses in plateau-generating DHNs, while brief bursts of spikes were evoked otherwise. These results indicate that in a population of deep DHNs, intense firing and prolonged afterdischarges in response to nociceptive stimulation depend on non-linear intrinsic membrane properties.