The influence of heat- and cold-induced pain on tactile sensitivity, a "touch gate", was measured under conditions in which the location of the noxious stimuli was varied with respect to the tactile stimulus applied to the thenar eminence of humans. Vibrotactile thresholds were measured in the absence of pain and during administration of a painful stimulus, with the stimulus frequencies selected to activate independently the four psychophysical channels hypothesized to exist in human glabrous skin. Heat-induced pain produced by spatially co-localizing the noxious stimuli with the tactile stimuli was found, on average, to elevate threshold amplitude by 2.2 times (6.7 dB). Co-localized, cold-induced pain raised the average thresholds by about 1.5 times (3.6 dB). Heat-induced pain presented contralaterally produced no change in vibrotactile sensitivity indicating that the effect is probably not due to attentional mechanisms. Ipsilateral heat-induced pain caused an elevation in tactile thresholds even when the noxious and non-noxious stimuli were not co-localized, and the effect may seem to require that the painful stimulus be within the somatosensory region defined possibly in terms of dermatomal organization. Thus the effect is probably related to somatotopic organization and is not peripherally mediated. A brief discussion as to the possible locus of the touch gate within the nervous system is also given.
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