Has the amount of spontaneous electrical activity in experimental neuromas been overestimated?

Kim J. Burchiel, Lisa C. Russell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Previous studies of experimental neuromas have indicated that some axons terminating in the neuroma exhibit both spontaneous and mechanosensitive discharges. Since these spontaneous discharges appear to occur in potentially nociceptive axons (Aδ and C fibers), it has been speculated that this activity may relate to pain that occurs after peripheral nerve injury. Recent results from our laboratory have revealed several possible sources of error in prior electrophysiological studies of neuromas. Most notably, gallamine, a muscle-paralyzing agent that has been used in the majority of previous studies of experimental neuromas, has profound potassium-channel-blocking properties that may increase spontaneous activity in damaged axons. The present study was conducted to re-evaluate the incidence of spontaneous activity in experimental neuromas, and the fiber types involved in these discharges. A group of 44 male Sprague-Dawley rats underwent unilateral saphenous axotomy 1-8 weeks prior to acute neurophysiological recording experiments, and 6 additional rats underwent acute control recording procedures only. Recording was performed in all animals using a modification of the microfilament recording technique to determine the conduction velocities (CVs) and origins of spontaneously discharging axons. A thorough search for spontaneous discharges was made in each nerve both before and after the administration of gallamine. Spontaneous activity was rare in acutely severed saphenous nerve and was not significantly affected by gallamine administration. In rats with 1- to 4-week-old experimental saphenous neuromas, spontaneous activity was rare but was increased by a factor of 12.75 after gallamine treatment. Gallamine administration produced significantly more of both A β and A δ activity, compared to control recordings. No spontaneous C-fiber activity was found originating in neuromas either before or after gallamine. C-fiber spontaneous discharges in the apparently isolated saphenous nerve segment had receptive fields in fascia, superficial vasculature, and hairy skin of the medial hindlimb. Our conclusions are as follows: (1) Neuromas exhibit only rare spontaneous discharges unless exposed to potassium-channel-blocking agents; (2) all C-fiber activity recorded in saphenous nerve with a distal neuroma is derived from vascular, fascial, and other receptive fields rather than from the neuroma; (3) these data are consistent with known clinical phenomena in that neuromas are not usually spontaneously painful.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)63-75
Number of pages13
JournalSomatosensory & Motor Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1987
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Sensory Systems


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