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Keywords:

  • cortical evoked potentials;
  • visceral pain;
  • colorectal distension;
  • irritable bowel syndrome

Abstract

Visceral pain is studied at the level of the primary afferent fiber, spinal cord, subcortical, and cortical levels electrophysiologically and using brain imaging, which provides an objective measure of excitation at each level. However, correlation of these with actual perception of pain in conscious animal models has been problematic, and we rely on indirect measures in most preclinical research. The main method is electromyographic recording of abdominal muscle contractions in response to colorectal distension (CRD), which may reflect reflexes set up at several levels of the above pathway. Several experimental treatments for visceral pain have failed in clinical trials, possibly because of failure to translate from preclinical observations on CRD responses in animals to perception of spontaneous events in patients. Therefore, we need more objective outcomes. In this NGM issue, Hultin et al. show feasibility of routine recordings of cortical evoked electrical potentials (CEP) using implanted cranial electrodes in response to graded CRD in rats. CEP comprised three temporal components with latencies of approximately 20–50 ms, 90–180 ms, and 300 ms, which were reproducible and graded in intensity and latency with distension pressure. From this basic study it is clear that colorectal evoked potentials can be recorded reliably in awake rats and may serve as an objective marker for centrally projecting visceral sensory signals in rodents. It remains to be seen how these responses are affected by drugs under development for clinical management of visceral pain, and if there is improved translation.