Putative nociceptive modulating neurons in the rostral ventromedial medulla of the rat: Firing of on- and off-cells is related to nociceptive responsiveness

Mary M. Heinricher, Nicholas M. Barbaro, Howard L. Fields

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

128 Scopus citations


In the unstimulated, lightly anesthetized rat, both on- and off-cells exhibit alternating periods of silence and activity lasting from several seconds to a few minutes. In the preceding paper, we showed that the active periods of all cells of the same class are always in phase, whereas the firing of cells of different classes is invariably out of phase. Thus, the pattern of firing of any single on- or off-cell provides a useful indication of the excitability of all on- and off-cells in the rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM). In this study, we measured the latency of the tail flick response (TF) at set intervals while recording from TF-related neurons in RVM, and were able to demonstrate a significant relationship between the spontaneous firing of both on- and off-cells and the latency of the TF response. If noxious heat is applied at a time when an off-cell is spontaneously active (or an on-cell is silent), the TF latency is longer than if the TF trial falls during a period in which the off-cell is silent (or the on-cell is active). This correlation between on- and off-cell firing and changes in TF latency is consistent with a nociceptive modulatory role for either or both cell classes. These findings support the hypothesis that off-cells inhibit and on-cells facilitate spinal nociceptive transmission and reflexes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)427-439
Number of pages13
JournalSomatosensory & Motor Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 1989



  • Antinociception
  • Nucleus raphe magnus
  • Pain
  • Rostral ventromedial medulla
  • Tail flick reflex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Sensory Systems

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