Sleep spindles and human cortical nociception: a surface and intracerebral electrophysiological study
The Journal of Physiology
593(22): 4995-5008
Claude L
Chouchou F
Prados G
Castro M
De Blay B
Perchet C
Garcia Larrea L
Mazza S
Bastuji H

Responsiveness to environmental stimuli declines during sleep, and sleep spindles are often considered to play a major role in inhibiting sensory inputs. In the present study, we tested the effect of spindles on behavioural, autonomic and cortical responses to pain, in two experiments assessing surface and intracerebral responses to thermo-nociceptive laser stimuli during the all-night N2 sleep stage. The percentage of arousals remained unchanged as a result of the presence of spindles. Neither cortical nociceptive responses, nor autonomic cardiovascular reactivity were depressed when elicited within a spindle. These results could be replicated in human intracerebral recordings, where sleep spindle activity in the posterior thalamus failed to depress the thalamocortical nociceptive transmission, as measured by sensory responses within the posterior insula. Hence, the assumed inhibitory effect of spindles on sensory inputs may not apply to the nociceptive system, possibly as a result of the specificity of spinothalamic pathways and the crucial role of nociceptive information for homeostasis. Intriguingly, a late scalp response commonly considered to reflect high-order stimulus processing (the ‘P3’ potential) was significantly enhanced during spindling, suggesting a possible spindle-driven facilitation, rather than attenuation, of cortical nociception.