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A thalamic nucleus specific for pain and temperature sensation


THE existence of a posterolateral thalamic relay nucleus for pain and temperature sensation was postulated in 1911, on the basis of the stroke-induced analgesia and thermanaesthesia found paradox-ically in patients with thalamic pain syndrome1. Pain or tempera-ture sensations can be evoked in humans by electrical stimulation in a vaguely defined region of the posterolateral thalamus2'3. Here we use anterograde tracing and single unit recordings to demon-strate that there is a distinct nucleus in the posterior thalamus of the macaque monkey that receives a dense, topographic input from spinothalamic lamina I neurons and in which almost all neurons are nociceptive- or thermoreceptive-specific. Immunohistochemical staining showed that this nucleus is defined by a dense calbindin-positive fibre plexus in the macaque, so we applied the same stain-ing method to sections of human thalamus. We found a nearly identical fibre plexus localized within a distinct nucleus that is cytoarchitectonically homologous to the lamina I relay nucleus in the macaque thalamus. The stereotaxic coordinates of this nucleus and its location relative to the main somatosensory representation fit clinical descriptions of the pain-producing region in humans. We conclude that this is a specific thalamic nucleus for pain and temperature sensation in both monkey and human.

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Craig, A., Bushnell, M., Zhang, ET. et al. A thalamic nucleus specific for pain and temperature sensation. Nature 372, 770–773 (1994).

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