Author(s): Schmelz M, Schmidt R, Bickel A, Handwerker HO, Torebjrk HE
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Abstract In microneurography experiments 56 unmyelinated nerve fibers were studied in the cutaneous branch of the peroneal nerve of healthy volunteers. Units were identified with the "marking" technique as mechanically and heat-responsive (CMH; n = 30), heat-responsive (CH; n = 13), or unresponsive to mechanical and heat stimulation (CMiHi; n = 13). None of the units showed spontaneous activity. These units were tested for responsiveness to iontophoresis of histamine (1 mA, 20 sec) from a small probe (diameter, 6 mm), which induced itch sensations lasting several minutes. Twenty-three units were unresponsive to histamine, and 25 units responded weakly with a few spike discharges after iontophoresis. Eight units, however, responded with sustained discharges to histamine, and their discharge patterns were matching the time course of the itch sensations. All C-units in this group were mechanically insensitive, and five of them were heat-responsive. They had very low conduction velocities of only 0.5 m/sec, on average, which is significantly lower than conduction velocities of the "polymodal" CMH units. This slow conduction velocities attributable to small axon diameters may be one reason why these units have not been encountered in previous studies. Histamine-sensitive C-units had very large innervation territories extending up to a diameter of 85 mm on the lower leg. We conclude that these C-fibers represent a new class of afferent nerve fibers with particularly thin axons but excessive terminal branching. This type of C-fiber probably represents the afferent units long searched for mediating itch sensations.
This article was published in J Neurosci
and referenced in General Medicine: Open Access