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J Neurophysiol. 2010 Jan;103(1):490-8. doi: 10.1152/jn.00622.2009. Epub 2009 Nov 18.

Heterogeneity of membrane properties in sympathetic preganglionic neurons of neonatal mice: evidence of four subpopulations in the intermediolateral nucleus.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, School of Medicine, Emory University/Georgia Institute of Technology, 615 Michael St., Atlanta, GA 30322, USA.


Spinal cord sympathetic preganglionic neurons (SPNs) integrate activity from descending and sensory systems to determine the final central output of the sympathetic nervous system. The intermediolateral column (IML) has the highest number and density of SPNs and, within this region, SPN somas are found in distinct clusters within thoracic and upper lumbar spinal segments. Whereas SPNs exhibit a rostrocaudal gradient of end-target projections, individual clusters contain SPNs with diverse functional roles. Here we explored diversity in the electrophysiological properties observed in Hb9-eGFP-identified SPNs in the IML of neonatal mice. Overall, mouse SPN intrinsic membrane properties were comparable with those seen in other species. A wide range of values was obtained for all measured properties (up to a 10-fold difference), suggesting that IML neurons are highly differentiated. Using linear regression we found strong correlations between many cellular properties, including input resistance, rheobase, time constant, action potential shape, and degree of spike accommodation. The best predictor of cell function was rheobase, which correlated well with firing frequency-injected current (f-I) slopes as well as other passive and active membrane properties. The range in rheobase suggests that IML neurons have a recruitment order with stronger synaptic drives required for maximal recruitment. Using cluster analysis, we identified at least four subpopulations of SPNs, including one with a long time constant, low rheobase, and high f-I gain. We thus propose that the IML contains populations of neurons that are differentiable by their membrane properties and hypothesize they represent diverse functional classes.

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