Responses of dorsal horn cells to ventral root stimulation were determined for the L7 and S1 levels of the spinal cord of 14 anesthetized cats. Forty-six dorsal horn cells were found that were excited by stimulation of the distal stump of the cut ventral root. For maximum excitation it was necessary to use a train of stimuli. For the 34 dorsal horn cells whose peripheral receptive-field properties could be characterized, 14 were wide dynamic range cells and 19 were high-threshold cells. The other cell responded exclusively to stimulation of deep tissue. None of the cells responded exclusively to innocuous stimuli, and all responded more vigorously to noxious than to innocuous stimuli. Some cells also responded to noxious heat applied to the skin of the receptive field. Locations of 10 of the activated dorsal horn cells were identified. They were distributed throughout the dorsal horn, but most were found in laminae V and VI. In four animals, both the proximal and distal stumps of the cut S1 ventral root were stimulated while searching for dorsal horn cells. Ten dorsal horn cells were found that were excited by stimulation of the distal stump of the ventral root. No cells were found that responded to proximal stump stimulation. To prevent current spread by stimulation of the ventral root, an extra ground electrode was placed distal to the stimulating electrodes. When the ground electrode was removed, distinctive signs of current spread appeared in that a cord dorsum potential could be recorded and the dorsal horn neuronal responses changed. Dorsal horn neurons could also be excited by nonelectrical stimuli such as crushing the ventral root. If the ventral root was crushed distal to the stimulating electrodes, however, the initially excited cell could no longer be activated by ventral root stimulation. Activation of dorsal horn cells by stimulation of the distal stump of a cut ventral root was abolished when the dorsal root of the same segment was sectioned. Conduction velocities of the fibers in the ventral root that excited dorsal horn cells ranged between 0.25 and 1.78 m/s with a mean of 0.91 ± 0.47 (SD) m/s. These results show that there are unmyelinated afferent fibers in the ventral root that enter the spinal cord through the dorsal root and excite dorsal horn cells. These fibers are probably responsible for the phenomenon of recurrent sensibility. These data are consistent with three arrangements of ventral root afferent fibers: axons that enter the ventral root and then loop back to enter the cord through the dorsal root, fibers that innervate the pia mater and use the ventral root as the most direct path to the dorsal root ganglion, and dorsal root ganglion cells that give rise to central processes in both the dorsal and ventral root. The exact number of axons in each of these types is not known.
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