Several lines of evidence suggest that secondary hyperalgesia to punctate mechanical stimuli arises from central sensitization to the input from primary afferent nociceptors. Conventional C-fiber nociceptors respond to heat stimuli and yet heat hyperalgesia is absent in the region of secondary hyperalgesia. This evidence suggests that the central sensitization to nociceptor input does not involve heat sensitive nociceptors. To test this hypothesis, we investigated whether desensitization of heat sensitive nociceptors by topical application of capsaicin led to an alteration in the secondary hyperalgesia. Two 2×2 cm areas on the volar forearm, separated by 1 cm, were treated in 10 healthy volunteers. One of the areas was desensitized by treatment with 10% topical capsaicin (6 h/day for 2 days). The other site served as vehicle control. Hyperalgesia was produced 2 days later by an intradermal injection of capsaicin (50 μg, 10 μl) at a point midway between the two treatment areas. Secondary hyperalgesia to noxious mechanical stimuli was investigated by using a blade probe (32 and 64 g) attached to a computer-controlled mechanical stimulator. In the area of topical capsaicin treatment, there was a marked increase in heat pain threshold and decrease in heat pain ratings indicating a pronounced desensitization of heat sensitive nociceptors. However, touch threshold and pain to pinching stimuli were not significantly altered. The intradermal capsaicin injection led to the development of a similar degree of secondary hyperalgesia at both the vehicle and capsaicin treatment areas. These results indicate that capsaicin insensitive nociceptive afferents play a dominant role not only in normal mechanical pain but also in secondary hyperalgesia to noxious mechanical stimuli.
aDepartment of Neurosurgery, Johns Hopkins University, Room 5-109 Meyer Building, 600 North Wolfe Street, Baltimore, MD 21287, USA
bApplied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University, Johns Hopkins Road, Laurel, MD 20723, USA
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +1-410-955-2275; fax: +1-410-955-1032
1 Present address: University of Texas Arlington, Department of Psychology, Box 19528, Arlington, TX 76019, USA.
Received January 28, 1999; received in revised form June 10, 1999; accepted July 26, 1999