The Input-Output Relation of Primary Nociceptive Neurons is Determined by the Morphology of the Peripheral Nociceptive Terminals

Omer Barkai, Rachely Butterman, Ben Katz, Shaya Lev, Alexander M. Binshtok

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The output from the peripheral terminals of primary nociceptive neurons, which detect and encode the information regarding noxious stimuli, is crucial in determining pain sensation. The nociceptive terminal endings are morphologically complex structures assembled from multiple branches of different geometry, which converge in a variety of forms to create the terminal tree. The output of a single terminal is defined by the properties of the transducer channels producing the generation potentials and voltage-gated channels, translating the generation potentials into action potential (AP) firing. However, in the majority of cases, noxious stimuli activate multiple terminals; thus, the output of the nociceptive neuron is defined by the integration and computation of the inputs of the individual terminals. Here, we used a computational model of nociceptive terminal tree to study how the architecture of the terminal tree affects the input-output relation of the primary nociceptive neurons. We show that the input-output properties of the nociceptive neurons depend on the length, the axial resistance (Ra), and location of individual terminals. Moreover, we show that activation of multiple terminals by a capsaicin-like current allows summation of the responses from individual terminals, thus leading to increased nociceptive output. Stimulation of the terminals in simulated models of inflammatory or neuropathic hyperexcitability led to a change in the temporal pattern of AP firing, emphasizing the role of temporal code in conveying key information about changes in nociceptive output in pathologic conditions, leading to pain hypersensitivity.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Noxious stimuli are detected by terminal endings of primary nociceptive neurons, which are organized into morphologically complex terminal trees. The information from multiple terminals is integrated along the terminal tree, computing the neuronal output, which propagates toward the CNS, thus shaping the pain sensation. Here, we revealed that the structure of the nociceptive terminal tree determines the output of nociceptive neurons. We show that the integration of noxious information depends on the morphology of the terminal trees and how this integration and, consequently, the neuronal output change under pathologic conditions. Our findings help to predict how nociceptive neurons encode noxious stimuli and how this encoding changes in pathologic conditions, leading to pain.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)9346-9363
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number49
StatePublished - 2 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2020 the authors.


  • axon
  • inflammatory pain
  • neuropathic pain
  • nociception
  • nociceptive terminal
  • sodium channels


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