Ectopic activity in cutaneous regenerating afferent nerve fibers following nerve lesion in the rat


: Professor Dr Wilfrid Jänig, as above.


Spontaneous activity, and mechanical and thermal sensitivity were investigated in regenerating afferent nerve fibers within 4–21 days post sural nerve lesion (crush or transection and resuturing) in anaesthetized rats. About 33–40% of the myelinated (A) and 22–27% of the unmyelinated (C) fibers excited by electrical nerve stimulation exhibited at least one of these ectopic discharge properties. In total 177 A- and 169 C-fibers with ectopic activity were analysed. Most A-fibers (161/177) were mechanosensitive. Spontaneous activity (median 1 imp/s) was present in 23/177 and thermosensitivity in 14/177 A-fibers (13 of them being activated by heat stimuli). Almost all A-fibers (159/177) exhibited only one type of ectopic discharge property. Most C-fibers (94/169) were thermosensitive responding either to cold (n = 45) or to heat stimuli (n = 33) or to both (n = 16). Eighty-four of 169 C-fibers were spontaneously active (median 0.3 imp/s) and 75/169 C-fibers were mechanosensitive. Both the proportion and the discharge rate of spontaneously active C-fibers were significantly higher after crush than after section and resuturing of the nerve. About 60% of the C-fibers (101/169) had only one ectopic discharge property and 40% two or three. In conclusion, regenerating cutaneous afferent A- and C-fibers may develop mechano- and/or thermosensitivity as well as spontaneous activity. We suggest that spontaneous and evoked ectopic activity in regenerating cutaneous afferents are a function of the intrinsic functional properties of these neurons and of the interaction between the regenerating nerve fibers and non-neural cells during Wallerian degeneration in the nerve distal to the nerve lesion.