Opposing effects of cervical spinal cold block on spinal itch and pain transmission

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Inactivation of descending pathways enhanced responses of spinal dorsal horn neurons to noxious stimuli, but little is known regarding tonic descending modulation of spinal itch transmission. To study effects of cervical spinal cold block on responses of dorsal horn neurons to itch-evoking and pain-evoking stimuli, single-unit recordings were made from superficial dorsal horn wide dynamic range and nociceptive-specific-type neurons in pentobarbital-anesthetized mice. Intradermal histamine excited 17 units. Cold block stating 1 minute after intradermal injection of histamine caused a marked decrease in firing. The histamine-evoked response during and following cold block was significantly lower compared with control histamine-evoked responses in the absence of cold block. A similar but weaker depressant effect of cold block was observed for dorsal horn unit responses to chloroquine. Twenty-six units responded to mustard oil allyl isothiocyanate (AITC), with a further significant increase in firing during the 1-minute period of cold block beginning 1 minute after AITC application. Activity during cold block was significantly greater compared with the same time period of control responses to AITC in the absence of cold block. Ten units’ responses to noxious heat were significantly enhanced during cold block, while 6 units’ responses were reduced and 18 unaffected. Cold block had no effect on mechanically evoked responses. These results indicate that spinal chemonociceptive transmission is under tonic descending inhibitory modulation, while spinal pruriceptive transmission is under an opposing, tonic descending facilitatory modulation.

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