Activation of spinal wide dynamic range neurons by intracutaneous microinjection of nicotine

Steven L. Jinks, Earl Carstens

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31 Scopus citations


Nicotine evokes pain in the skin and oral mucosa and excites a subpopulation of cutaneous nociceptors, but little is known about the central transmission of chemogenic pain. We have investigated the responses of lumbar spinal wide dynamic range (WDR)-type dorsal horn neurons to intracutaneous (ic) microinjection of nicotine in pentobarbital-anesthetized rats. Nearly all (97%) units responded to nicotine microinjected ic (1 μl) into the low- threshold region of the hind-paw mechanosensitive receptive field in a concentration-related manner (0.01-10%). Responses to repeated injections of 10% nicotine exhibited tachyphylaxis at 5-, 10-, and 15-min interstimulus intervals. Significant tachyphylaxis was not seen with 1% nicotine. All nicotine-responsive units tested (n = 30) also responded to ic histamine (1 μl, 3%) and did not exhibit tachyphylaxis to repeated histamine. However, there was significant cross-tachyphylaxis of nicotine to histamine. Thus 5 min after ic nicotine, histamine-evoked responses were attenuated significantly compared with the initial histamine-evoked response prior to nicotine, with partial recovery over the ensuing 15 min. Neuronal excitation by ic nicotine was not mediated by histamine H1 receptors because ic injection of the H1 receptor antagonist, cetirizine, had no effect on ic nicotine-evoked responses, whereas it significantly attenuated ic histamine- evoked responses in the same neurons. The lowest-threshold portion of cutaneous receptive fields showed a significant expansion in area at 20 rain after ic nicotine 10%, indicative of sensitization. Responses to 1% nicotine were significantly reduced after ic injection of the nicotinic antagonist, mecamylamine (0.1% ic), with no recovery over the ensuing 40-60 min. These data indicate that nicotine ic excites spinal WDR neurons, partly via neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors that are presumably expressed in cutaneous nociceptor terminals. Repeated injections of high concentrations of nicotine led to tachyphylaxis and cross-tachyphylaxis with histamine, possibly relevant to peripheral analgesic effects of nicotine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3046-3055
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Neuroscience(all)


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