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Keywords:

  • afterdischarge;
  • CAN current;
  • L-type calcium current;
  • NMDA receptors;
  • nociceptive integration;
  • slice-intracellular technique;
  • windup

Abstract

In the spinal cord, repetitive stimulation of nociceptive afferent fibres induces a progressive build-up of dorsal horn neuron (DHN) responses. This ‘action potential windup’ is used as a cellular model of central sensitization to pain. It partly relies on synaptic plasticity, being reduced after blocking NMDA and neurokinin receptors. Using intracellular recordings in a slice preparation of the rat spinal cord, we have analysed the implication of an additional non-synaptic component of windup. Primary afferent fibres were electrically stimulated in the dorsal root. Of 47 responding deep DHNs, 17 (36%) produced action potential windup and afterdischarge during consecutive periods of repeated stimuli (0.4–1 Hz) activating high- (n = 13 neurons) and low-threshold (n = 6 neurons) afferent fibres. When the NMDA receptors were blocked, the rate of windup did not change. In all neurons, there was an absolute correlation between expression of windup and the production of calcium-dependent plateau potentials. Sensitization of the DHN response, similar to the synaptically induced windup, was obtained by repetitive intracellular injection of depolarizing current pulses. This intracellularly induced windup had the same pharmacology as the plateau potential. Synaptically induced windup was also abolished by nifedipine, an L-type calcium-channel blocker. Expression of plateau properties in DHNs is therefore a critical component of windup, operating downstream of synaptic processes. Being associated with calcium influx, generation of plateau potentials could be a link between short-term plasticity and the long-term modification of DHN excitability associated with central sensitization.