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J Neurobiol. 2006 Jan;66(1):1-18.

Pharmacological characterization of ionic currents that regulate high-frequency spontaneous activity of electromotor neurons in the weakly electric fish, Apteronotus leptorhynchus.

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Department of Biology, Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior, and Program in Neuroscience, Indiana University, Bloomington, 47405, USA.


The neural circuit that controls the electric organ discharge (EOD) of the brown ghost knifefish (Apteronotus leptorhynchus) contains two spontaneous oscillators. Both pacemaker neurons in the medulla and electromotor neurons (EMNs) in the spinal cord fire spontaneously at frequencies of 500-1,000 Hz to control the EOD. These neurons continue to fire in vitro at frequencies that are highly correlated with in vivo EOD frequency. Previous studies used channel blocking drugs to pharmacologically characterize ionic currents that control high-frequency firing in pacemaker neurons. The goal of the present study was to use similar techniques to investigate ionic currents in EMNs, the other type of spontaneously active neuron in the electromotor circuit. As in pacemaker neurons, high-frequency firing of EMNs was regulated primarily by tetrodotoxin-sensitive sodium currents and by potassium currents that were sensitive to 4-aminopyridine and kappaA-conotoxin SIVA, but resistant to tetraethylammonium. EMNs, however, differed from pacemaker neurons in their sensitivity to some channel blocking drugs. Alpha-dendrotoxin, which blocks a subset of Kv1 potassium channels, increased firing rates in EMNs, but not pacemaker neurons; and the sodium channel blocker muO-conotoxin MrVIA, which reduced firing rates of pacemaker neurons, had no effect on EMNs. These results suggest that similar, but not identical, ionic currents regulate high-frequency firing in EMNs and pacemaker neurons. The differences in the ionic currents expressed in pacemaker neurons and EMNs might be related to differences in the morphology, connectivity, or function of these two cell types.

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