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J Physiol. 1995 May 15;485 ( Pt 1):135-44.

Cholinergic and electrical synapses between synergistic spinal motoneurones in the Xenopus laevis embryo.

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School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, UK.


1. To investigate central motoneurone synapses within the spinal cord of a simple vertebrate, the Xenopus embryo, simultaneous intracellular recordings were made from fifty-five pairs of spinal motoneurones. 2. Chemical synapses were found between seventeen out of thirty-five pairs on the same side of the spinal cord. Current-evoked spikes in the presynaptic neurone led to fast depolarizing postsynaptic potentials (PSPs) in the postsynaptic neurone at latencies of 0.5-1.5 ms. The PSPs had an average amplitude of 7 mV, a rise time of 8 ms and a half-fall time of 18 ms. 3. The presynaptic motoneurone was always the more rostral of the pair. No excitatory connections were found which crossed the cord. The fast PSPs were blocked by 10 microM mecamylamine but not by 1 mM kynurenic acid, so were mediated by nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). These are the first unitary excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs) mediated by nAChRs recorded intracellularly within the vertebrate central nervous system. 4. Bidirectional electrical synapses were found between five pairs of motoneurones. All these pairs were on the same side of the spinal cord and less than 70 microns apart. Each neurone responded in a graded manner to either hyperpolarizing or depolarizing current injected into the other. 5. Since motoneurones are rhythmically active during swimming, both chemical and electrical synapses will add to the fast on-cycle excitation underlying spiking activity in other motoneurones. This may increase the reliability and local synchrony of synergistic motoneurone firing during locomotion.

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