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Noise or signal? Spontaneous activity of dorsal horn neurons: patterns and function in health and disease.

Spontaneous activity refers to the firing of action potentials by neurons in the absence of external stimulation. Initially considered an artifact or "noise" in the nervous system, it is now recognized as a potential feature of neural function. Spontaneous activity has been observed in various brain areas, in experimental preparations from different animal species, and in live animals and humans using non-invasive imaging techniques. In this review, we specifically focus on the spontaneous activity of dorsal horn neurons of the spinal cord. We use a historical perspective to set the basis for a novel classification of the different patterns of spontaneous activity exhibited by dorsal horn neurons. Then we examine the origins of this activity and propose a model circuit to explain how the activity is generated and transmitted to the dorsal horn. Finally, we discuss possible roles of this activity during development and during signal processing under physiological conditions and pain states. By analyzing recent studies on the spontaneous activity of dorsal horn neurons, we aim to shed light on its significance in sensory processing. Understanding the different patterns of activity, the origins of this activity, and the potential roles it may play, will contribute to our knowledge of sensory mechanisms, including pain, to facilitate the modeling of spinal circuits and hopefully to explore novel strategies for pain treatment.

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