A visceral pain pathway in the dorsal column of the spinal cord. Academic Article Review uri icon


  • A limited midline myelotomy at T10 can relieve pelvic cancer pain in patients. This observation is explainable in light of strong evidence in support of the existence of a visceral pain pathway that ascends in the dorsal column (DC) of the spinal cord. In rats and monkeys, responses of neurons in the ventral posterolateral thalamic nucleus to noxious colorectal distention are dramatically reduced after a lesion of the DC at T10, but not by interruption of the spinothalamic tract. Blockade of transmission of visceral nociceptive signals through the rat sacral cord by microdialysis administration of morphine or 6-cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione shows that postsynaptic DC neurons in the sacral cord transmit visceral nociceptive signals to the gracile nucleus. Retrograde tracing studies in rats demonstrate a concentration of postsynaptic DC neurons in the central gray matter of the L6-S1 spinal segments, and anterograde tracing studies show that labeled axons ascend from this region to the gracile nucleus. A similar projection from the midthoracic spinal cord ends in the gracile and cuneate nuclei. Behavioral experiments demonstrate that DC lesions reduce the nocifensive responses produced by noxious stimulation of the pancreas and duodenum, as well as the electrophysiological responses of ventral posterolateral neurons to these stimuli. Repeated regional blood volume measurements were made in the thalamus and other brain structures in anesthetized monkeys in response to colorectal distention by functional MRI. Sham surgery did not reduce the regional blood volume changes, whereas the changes were eliminated by a DC lesion at T10.

publication date

  • July 1999