Transmission from single, identified hair follicle afferent (HFA) nerve fibers to their target neurons of the cuneate nucleus was examined in anesthetized cats by means of paired recording from individual cuneate neurons and from fine, intact fascicles of the lateral branch of the superficial radial nerve in which it is possible to identify and monitor the activity of each group II fiber. Selective activation of individual HFA fibers was achieved by means of focal vibrotactile skin stimulation. Forearm denervation precluded inputs from sources other than the monitored HFA sensory fiber. Transmission characteristics were analyzed for 21 HFA fiber-cuneate neuron pairs in which activity in the single HFA fiber of each pair reliably evoked spike output from the target neuron at a fixed latency. As the cuneate responses to each HFA impulse often consisted of 2 or 3 spikes, in particular at HFA input rates up to ∼20 imp/s, the synaptic linkage displayed potent amplification and high-gain transmission, characteristics that were confirmed quantitatively in measures of transmission security, and cuneate spike output measures. In response to vibrotactile stimuli, the tight phase locking in the responses of single HFA fibers was well retained in the cuneate responses for vibration frequencies up to ∼200 Hz. On measures of vector strength, the phase locking declined across the synaptic linkage by no more than ∼10% at frequencies up to 100 Hz. However, limitations on the impulse rates generated in both the HFA fibers their associated cuneate neurons meant that the impulse patterns could not directly signal information about the vibration frequency above 50-100 Hz. Although single HFA fibers are also known to have secure synaptic linkages with spinocervical tract neurons, it is probable that this linkage lacks the capacity of the HFA-cuneate synapse for conveying precise temporal information, in an impulse pattern code, about the frequency parameter of vibrotactile stimuli.
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