1. The tibial and sural nerves were transected and repaired in nine adult cats. The receptive field (RF) properties of dorsal horn neurons were examined at three different intervals (5-6, 9, or 12 mo) after axotomy. The properties examined included RF location, area, and modality convergence. In some cases, discrete areas of the cell's RF were stimulated electrically while the evoked cord dorsum potentials (CDPs) and any intracellularly recorded responses were simultaneously recorded. 2. At the shortest interval following reinnervation, the somatotopic organization in the affected areas of the dorsal horn was lost. Dorsal horn cells that received input primarily from regenerated fibers had large, low-threshold excitatory RFs that contained much of the reinnervated skin. Those cells with RFs restricted to a fraction of the reinnervated skin had significant components of their RFs on the foot dorsum supplied by intact fibers (i.e., superficial peroneal nerve). 3. At longer intervals the somatotopic organization remained scrambled. Dorsal horn cell low-threshold RFs were significantly reduced in size. Many cells exhibited large areas of excitatory subliminal fringe and concise inhibitory RFs. In addition, those cells that responded to peripheral stimuli across a wide range of stimulus intensities (wide-dynamic-range cells) also exhibited plasticity in the relative sizes of their low- and high-threshold RFs. 4. At the shortest recovery time, focal electrical stimulation of the skin within the RF of an impaled cell and simultaneous recordings of the evoked CDPs and postsynaptic potentials revealed that at numerous locations within the initial large RFs, single fibers or small groups of fibers could be electrically activated that were not connected to the dorsal horn cell. At the longer recovery times there was a much higher incidence of connectivity. 5. These results suggest that mechanisms affecting both synaptic efficacy of afferent fiber connections and/or the establishment of afferent-driven inhibitory inputs may effect the reshaping of dorsal horn cell RFs after reinnervation. These results are discussed in relation to their potential contribution to previously observed cortical plasticity and functional recovery following similar lesions.
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