Properties of the nociceptive neurons of the leech segmental ganglion

J. Pastor, B. Soria, C. Belmonte


1. The electrical responses of nociceptive (N) lateral and N medial neurons of the leech segmental ganglion to mechanical, chemical, and thermal stimulation of the skin were studied in a superfused ganglion-body wall preparation. 2. Mechanical indentation of the skin > 10 mN evoked in both types of cells a sustained discharge of impulses; afterdischarge was often observed with suprathreshold stimulations. 3. Application to the cutaneous receptive area of 10-100 mM acetic acid or of NaCI crystals and solutions also elicited a firing response in N medial and N lateral cells. In contrast, capsaicin applied to the skin (3.3 x 10(-5) to 3.3 x 10(-2) M) excited N lateral but not N medial neurons. Likewise, impulse discharges were obtained when capsaicin was applied to the cell bodies of N lateral but not of N medial neurons. 4. In both types of N neurons, heating of the skin above 39 degrees C evoked a discharge of impulses whose frequency was roughly proportional to temperature values. 5. Application of repeated suprathreshold heating cycles at 10-min intervals enhanced the impulse frequency of the response (sensitization). Shorter time intervals between heating cycles depressed the response to heat. Sensitization could not be obtained by equivalent soma depolarizations obtained by intracellular current injection. 6. Impulse discharges evoked by irritant agents were also augmented by previous application of noxious heat. 7. N lateral neurons fired in response to low-pH solutions and capsaicin directly applied onto the ganglion. N medial neurons responded inconsistently to acid and were insensitive to capsaicin. Action potentials evoked in N lateral cells by capsaicin had a slow rise, a prominent hump, and a prolonged afterhyperpolarization. 8. It is concluded that N neurons of the leech segmental ganglion respond to different modalities of noxious stimuli applied to their peripheral receptive fields and develop sensitization after repeated noxious stimulation. These properties are typical of mammalian polymodal nociceptors; thus N neurons may be a simple model for analysis of membrane mechanisms associated with polymodality of nociceptive neurons.