C fibers display activity-dependent slowing (ADS), whereby repetitive stimulation (≥1 Hz) results in a progressive slowing of action potential conduction velocity, which manifests as a progressive increase in response latency. However, the impact of ADS on spinal pain processing has not been explored, nor whether ADS is altered in inflammatory pain conditions. To investigate, compound action potentials were made, from dorsal roots isolated from rats with or without complete Freund's adjuvant (CFA) hindpaw inflammation, in response to electrical stimulus trains. CFA inflammation significantly reduced C fiber ADS at 1 and 2 Hz stimulation rates. Whole-cell patch-clamp recordings in the spinal cord slice preparation with attached dorsal roots also demonstrated that CFA inflammation reduced ADS in the monosynaptic C fiber input to lamina I neurokinin 1 receptor-expressing neurons (1-10 Hz stimulus trains) without altering the incidence of synaptic response failures. When analyzed by sex, it was revealed that females display a more pronounced ADS that is reduced by CFA inflammation to a level comparable with males. Cumulative ventral root potentials evoked by long and short dorsal root stimulation lengths, to maximize and minimize the impact of ADS, respectively, demonstrated that reducing ADS facilitates spinal summation, and this was also sex dependent. This finding correlated with the behavioral observation of increased noxious thermal thresholds and enhanced inflammatory thermal hypersensitivity in females. We propose that sex/inflammation-dependent regulation of C fiber ADS can, by controlling the temporal relay of nociceptive inputs, influence the spinal summation of nociceptive signals contributing to sex/inflammation-dependent differences in pain sensitivity.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The intensity of a noxious stimulus is encoded by the frequency of action potentials relayed by nociceptive C fibers to the spinal cord. C fibers conduct successive action potentials at progressively slower speeds, but the impact of this activity-dependent slowing (ADS) is unknown. Here we demonstrate that ADS is more prevalent in females than males and is reduced in an inflammatory pain model in females only. We also demonstrate a progressive delay of C fiber monosynaptic transmission to the spinal cord that is similarly sex and inflammation dependent. Experimentally manipulating ADS strongly influences spinal summation consistent with sex differences in behavioral pain thresholds. This suggests that ADS provides a peripheral mechanism that can regulate spinal nociceptive processing and pain sensation.
- Afferent Pathways/physiopathology
- Nerve Fibers, Unmyelinated
- Neural Conduction
- Rats, Sprague-Dawley
- Sex Factors
- Spinal Cord/physiopathology
- Spinal Nerve Roots/physiopathology