Nociception

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Nociception (synonym: nocioception or nociperception) is defined as "the neural processes of encoding and processing noxious stimuli."[1] It is the afferent activity produced in the peripheral and central nervous system by stimuli that have the potential to damage tissue.[2][3] This activity is initiated by nociceptors, (also called pain receptors), that can detect mechanical, thermal or chemical changes above a set threshold. Once stimulated, a nociceptor transmits a signal along the spinal cord, to the brain. Nociception triggers a variety of autonomic responses and may also result in the experience of pain in sentient beings.[3]

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Detection of noxious stimuli

Mechanical, thermal, and chemical stimuli are detected by nerve endings called nociceptors, which are found in the skin and on internal surfaces such as the periosteum or joint surfaces. The concentration of nociceptors varies throughout the body, mostly found in the skin and less so in deep internal surfaces. All nociceptors are free nerve endings that have their cell bodies outside the spinal column in the dorsal root ganglia and are named according to their appearance at their sensory ends.

Nociceptors have a certain threshold; that is, they require a minimum level of stimuli before they trigger a signal. In some conditions, excitation of pain fibers becomes greater as the pain stimulus continues, leading to a condition called hyperalgesia. Once the threshold is reached a signal is passed along the axon of the nerve into the spinal cord.

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