Dorsal column and root stimulation at Aβ-fiber intensity activate superficial dorsal horn glutamatergic and GABAergic populations

Wei Fan, Steve J. Sullivan, Andrei D. Sdrulla

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Neurostimulation therapies are frequently used in patients with chronic pain conditions. They emerged from Gate Control Theory (GCT), which posits that Aβ-fiber activation recruits superficial dorsal horn (SDH) inhibitory networks to “close the gate” on nociceptive transmission, resulting in pain relief. However, the efficacy of current therapies is limited, and the underlying circuits remain poorly understood. For example, it remains unknown whether ongoing stimulation of Aβ-fibers is sufficient to drive activity in SDH neurons. We used multiphoton microscopy in spinal cords extracted from mice expressing the genetically encoded calcium indicator GCaMP6s in glutamatergic and GABAergic populations; activity levels were inferred from deconvolved calcium signals using CaImAn software. Sustained Aβ-fiber stimulation at the dorsal columns or dorsal roots drove robust yet transient activation of both SDH populations. Following the initial increase, activity levels decreased below baseline in glutamatergic neurons and were depressed after stimulation ceased in both populations. Surprisingly, only about half of GABAergic neurons responded to Aβ-fiber stimulation. This subset showed elevated activity for the entire duration of stimulation, while non-responders decreased with time. Our findings suggest that Aβ-fiber stimulation initially recruits both excitatory and inhibitory populations but has divergent effects on their activity, providing a foundation for understanding the analgesic effects of neurostimulation devices. Perspective: This article used microscopy to characterize the responses of mouse spinal cord cells to stimulation of non-painful nerve fibers. These findings deepen our understanding of how the spinal cord processes information and provide a foundation for improving pain-relieving therapies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalMolecular Pain
StatePublished - Feb 23 2022


  • Aβ-fiber stimulation
  • Multiphoton microscopy
  • gate control theory
  • spinal cord stimulation
  • superficial dorsal horn

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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