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Prog Brain Res. 1989;80:257-67; discussion 239-42.

Possible functions of transmitter-controlled plateau potentials in alpha motoneurones.

Abstract

An increasing number of vertebrate central neurones has been shown to possess complex membrane properties. However, the functional significance of such properties is unclear. The aim of the present paper is to review some old and new findings in this field from this laboratory. First, a bistability in alpha motoneurones in reduced preparations is described. Thereafter we present some new data on a bistable behaviour in motor units in unrestrained intact animals during posture. Finally, the possible role of motoneuronal bistability in locomotion and in spasticity is discussed. Recently a bistable firing behaviour in motoneurones was described in the unanaesthetized decerebrate cat. This behaviour is generated by a plateau potential, which causes long-lasting excitability increase and can be initiated and terminated by short-lasting synaptic excitation and inhibition respectively, and is contingent upon activity in descending noradrenergic and serotonergic systems. In an in vitro preparation of the turtle spinal cord the plateau potential was shown to be serotonin dependent and generated by a voltage-dependent non-inactivating calcium conductance. In order to elucidate possible functional consequences of a bistable firing behaviour in the intact animal, the firing pattern of individual soleus motor units was studied by means of chronic EMG registration in awake unrestrained rats during quiet standing. Implanted electrodes allowed the delivery of excitatory and inhibitory stimulus trains to the motoneurones. It was found that short-lasting synaptic stimulation could induce maintained shifts between two stable levels of motoneurone firing frequencies, as in the decerebrate cat. Spontaneous shifts between the same two levels were also present. It seems most likely that plateau potentials are responsible for this bistable firing property in intact animals. The role of plateau potentials in locomotion is difficult to study. At present there are no clear indications of the utilization of plateau potentials in locomotion in intact animals. However, "clamped frequency" bursts which are observed in fictive locomotion in spinal cats might be explained by plateaus. The existence of plateau potentials in motoneurones may also be of importance in spasticity. Therefore, the development of spasticity in two spinalized cats was followed for 3 weeks. Acute experiments demonstrated plateau potentials in some motoneurones in this preparation.

PMID:
2699366
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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