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J Neurophysiol. 1993 Jun;69(6):2116-28.

Small-caliber afferent inputs produce a heterosynaptic facilitation of the synaptic responses evoked by primary afferent A-fibers in the neonatal rat spinal cord in vitro.

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Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, University College London, United Kingdom.


1. The effect of brief primary afferent inputs on the amplitude and duration of the synaptic potentials evoked in ventral horn (VH) neurons by the activation of other unconditioned primary afferents was studied by current-clamp intracellular recording in the neonatal rat hemisected spinal cord in vitro. Low-frequency (1 Hz) trains of stimulation were applied to a lumbar dorsal root (Conditioning root) for 20-30 s. Test excitatory synaptic potentials (EPSPs) were evoked by single electrical shocks applied to an adjacent Test dorsal root. 2. Test and Conditioning inputs were generated at stimulation strengths sufficient to activate A beta-, A delta- and C-afferent fibers successively. At A delta- and C-fiber strength the EPSPs lasted for 4-6 s, and, during the repetitive Conditioning inputs, these summated to produce a progressively incrementing cumulative depolarization that slowly decayed back to the control Vm over tens of seconds. 3. Dorsal root conditioning produced heterosynaptic facilitation, defined as an enhancement of Test EPSPs above their DC matched controls, in 7 out of 20 neurons. To facilitate the unconditioned afferent input, the intensity of conditioning stimulation had to exceed the threshold for the activation of thin myelinated (A delta) afferents: conditioning at A beta-fiber strength had no effect, whereas A delta- and C-fiber strength conditioning were equally effective. 4. Heterosynaptic facilitation of only A beta- or A delta-fiber-evoked Test EPSPs was observed, no enhancement of C-fiber strength Test EPSPs could be demonstrated. The facilitation manifested as increases in the EPSP peak amplitude, area or the number of action potentials evoked. 5. Conditioning trials that produced heterosynaptic facilitation generated cumulative depolarizations larger than those produced by ineffective conditioning trials (9.1 +/- 3.1 vs. 3.3 +/- 0.5 mV after 20 s conditioning at resting Vm, mean +/- SE, n = 6 and 13, respectively; P < 0.05). The slope of the Vm trajectory during the summation of the conditioning EPSPs was higher in trials resulting in heterosynaptic facilitation, at 0.31 +/- 0.10 mV/s in neurons with heterosynaptic facilitation and 0.06 +/- 0.02 mV/s in cells without heterosynaptic facilitation (P < 0.05). 5. Four of the 20 VH neurons in our sample responded to A delta/C-fiber conditioning with action-potential windup: all 4 also displayed heterosynaptic facilitation. 6. Heterosynaptic facilitation decayed after the completion of the conditioning stimulus with a time course that was parallel to but not superimposable on that of the slow Vm depolarization evoked by the conditioning.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS).

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