PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles

Anesthesiology and Pain Management - Neurological Disorders

Thermal Detection Thresholds of Ad- and C-Fibre Afferents Activated by Brief CO2 Laser Pulses Applied onto the Human Hairy Skin
Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Author: Maxim Churyukanov et al.

by Maxim Churyukanov, Léon Plaghki, Valéry Legrain, André Mouraux

Brief high-power laser pulses applied onto the hairy skin of the distal end of a limb generate a double sensation related to the activation of Ad- and C-fibres, referred to as first and second pain. However, neurophysiological and behavioural responses related to the activation of C-fibres can be studied reliably only if the concomitant activation of Ad-fibres is avoided. Here, using a novel CO2 laser stimulator able to deliver constant-temperature heat pulses through a feedback regulation of laser power by an online measurement of skin temperature at target site, combined with an adaptive staircase algorithm using reaction-time to distinguish between responses triggered by Ad- and C-fibre input, we show that it is possible to estimate robustly and independently the thermal detection thresholds of Ad-fibres (46.9±1.7°C) and C-fibres (39.8±1.7°C). Furthermore, we show that both thresholds are dependent on the skin temperature preceding and/or surrounding the test stimulus, indicating that the Ad- and C-fibre afferents triggering the behavioural responses to brief laser pulses behave, at least partially, as detectors of a change in skin temperature rather than as pure level detectors. Most importantly, our results show that the difference in threshold between Ad- and C-fibre afferents activated by brief laser pulses can be exploited to activate C-fibres selectively and reliably, provided that the rise in skin temperature generated by the laser stimulator is well-controlled. Our approach could constitute a tool to explore, in humans, the physiological and pathophysiological mechanisms involved in processing C- and Ad-fibre input, respectively.