Neuronal activity in the region of the thalamic principal sensory nucleus (ventralis caudalis) in patients with pain following amputations

F. A. Lenz, I. M. Garonzik, T. A. Zirh, P. M. Dougherty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


Thalamic neuronal activity has not been studied in a primate model of peripheral nerve injury. We now report neuronal activity in the region of the human principal sensory nucleus of thalamus (ventralis caudalis) in awake patients during the physiologic exploration that precedes surgical procedures for treatment of stump pain and movement disorders. All patients with amputations showed increased thalamic representations of the stump as reflected in both receptive and projected field maps. This suggested that thalamic re-organization involved both the afferent inputs from and the perceptual representation of the limb. The spontaneous activity of neurons in the region of ventralis caudalis representing the limb with the stump (stump area) was significantly different from that in other areas of the region of ventralis caudalis in patients with amputations (stump control areas) and in patients with movement disorders (control areas). The mean interspike intervals were significantly shorter for cells located in stump areas than for those located in stump control or control areas. Cells in all areas were found to fire in three different patterns: B group (burst) characterized by bursting activity, R group (relay) characterized as a Poisson process, and III group characterized by non-bursting, non-Poisson activity. Cells in the B group were significantly more common in stump control (41%) and stump areas (33%) than in control areas (15%). Bursting cells were found to have patterns consistent with the occurrence of a calcium spike (spike-burst pattern). The spike-burst pattern was most common among cells with receptive fields in the stump area. In these cells firing between bursts (primary event rate) was significantly higher than other cells in the region of ventralis caudalis, suggesting that spike-bursts are not due to hyperpolarization, i.e. low- threshold spikes. Spike-bursts often occur as a result of low-threshold spikes, when the cell is hyperpolarized. In contrast, spike-bursts in these patients were associated with increased interburst firing rates in cells with receptive fields. Thus bursting of these cells may have been due to high- threshold dendritic calcium spikes evoked by afferent input. In that case bursting could be involved in activity-dependent changes in thalamic function following deafferentation through a calcium-mediated mechanism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1065-1081
Number of pages17
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 18 1998


  • Amputation
  • Deafferentation
  • Human
  • Neurophysiology
  • Thalamus
  • Ventral posterior nucleus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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