Tempo-spatial discrimination is lower for noxious stimuli than for innocuous stimuli
The exteroceptive sensory system is responsible for sensing external stimuli in relation to time and space. The aim of this study was to investigate the tempo-spatial properties of the exteroceptive system using painful laser heat and nonpainful mechanical touch stimulation. Thirteen healthy subjects were stimulated on the volar forearm using 2 paradigms: a continuous stimulation along a line on the skin and a 2-point stimulation. The line stimulations were delivered in both the distal and proximal direction with lengths of 25, 50, 75, and 100 mm. The 2-point stimulations were assessed by simultaneous stimuli at a point-to-point distance ranging from 10 to 100 mm, in steps of 10 mm. The subjects reported the intensity (0-10 numeric rating scale, 3: pain threshold) and either direction (line stimuli) or number of perceived points (2-point stimuli). All mechanical line stimulations were reported correctly, ie, a directional discrimination threshold of less than 25 mm. For painful laser line stimulation, the directional discrimination threshold was 68.5 and 70.2 mm for distally and proximally directed stimuli, respectively. The 2-point discrimination threshold for painful laser stimulation (67.9 mm) was higher than for the mechanical stimulation (34.5 mm). Numeric rating scale increased both with line length and distance between the 2 points (linear mixed model, P < 0.001). The findings indicate that the tempo-spatial acuity of the exteroceptive system is lower for noxious stimuli than for innocuous stimuli. This is possible due to the larger receptive fields of nociceptive neurons and/or less lateral inhibition.