Open Access Research

Selective nociceptor activation in volunteers by infrared diode laser

Alexander Z Tzabazis12, Michael Klukinov2, Sonia Crottaz-Herbette2, Mikhail I Nemenov23, Martin S Angst2 and David C Yeomans2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Anesthesia, Friedrich Alexander University, Erlangen, Germany

2 Department of Anesthesia, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA

3 Lasmed, LLC, Mountain View, CA, USA

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Molecular Pain 2011, 7:18  doi:10.1186/1744-8069-7-18

Published: 22 March 2011



Two main classes of peripheral sensory neurons contribute to thermal pain sensitivity: the unmyelinated C fibers and thinly myelinated Aδ fibers. These two fiber types may differentially underlie different clinical pain states and distinctions in the efficacy of analgesic treatments. Methods of differentially testing C and Aδ thermal pain are widely used in animal experimentation, but these methods are not optimal for human volunteer and patient use. Thus, this project aimed to provide psychophysical and electrophysiological evidence that whether different protocols of infrared diode laser stimulation, which allows for direct activation of nociceptive terminals deep in the skin, could differentially activate Aδ or C fiber thermonociceptors in volunteers.


Short (60 ms), high intensity laser pulses (SP) evoked monomodal "pricking" pain which was not enhanced by topical capsaicin, whereas longer, lower power pulses (LP) evoked monomodal "burning" pain which was enhanced by topical capsaicin. SP also produced cortical evoked EEG potentials consistent with Aδ mediation, the amplitude of which was directly correlated with pain intensity but was not affected by topical capsaicin. LP also produced a distinct evoked potential pattern the amplitude of which was also correlated with pain intensity, which was enhanced by topical capsaicin, and the latency of which could be used to estimate the conduction velocity of the mediating nociceptive fibers.


Psychophysical and electrophysiological data were consistent with the ability of short high intensity infrared laser pulses to selectively produce Aδ mediated pain and of longer pulses to selectively produce C fiber mediated thermal pain. Thus, the use of these or similar protocols may be useful in developing and testing novel therapeutics based on the differential molecular mechanisms underlying activation of the two fiber types (e.g., TRPV1, TRPV2, etc). In addition, these protocol may be useful in determining the fiber mediation of different clinical pain types which may, in turn be useful in treatment choice.