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J Physiol. 1997 May 15;501 ( Pt 1):165-81.

On-going and reflex synaptic events in rat superior cervical ganglion cells.

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Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute, Sydney, NSW, Australia.


1. Synaptic events evoked by brief noxious cutaneous stimuli were recorded in sympathetic neurones in the superior cervical ganglion of anaesthetized rats. 2. On-going excitatory synaptic potentials (ESPs) and/or action potentials (APs) were recorded in 69% of neurones at mean frequencies that varied from 0.01 to 6.3 Hz in different cells. From histograms of ESP amplitude during membrane hyperpolarization, it appears that most cells received one (52%), or two or more (36%), suprathreshold inputs and several subthreshold inputs with overlapping amplitudes. 3. Pinching the skin for 1-3 s evoked either a brief burst of synaptic events (lasting about 300 ms) preceding a few seconds of inhibition (burst-inhibitory (BI) neurones), or simply an excitation (excitatory (E) neurones), or no response (O neurones). In 60% of BI neurones, a second burst occurred after the end of the pinch. 4. BI neurones had a higher frequency of on-going synaptic activity (2.9 +/- 0.5 Hz, n = 15) than E neurones (0.2 +/- 0.1 Hz, n = 5) or O (0.2 +/- 0.1 Hz, n = 5) neurones. Most neurones with two or more suprathreshold inputs were BI neurones. In 20% of neurones (all BI with high rates of synaptic activity), several other inputs had ESPs with amplitudes close to threshold. 5. Subthreshold and suprathreshold inputs responded in the same way in only 45% of neurones, but suprathreshold inputs were excited in 73% of BI and all E neurones. The order of recruitment of different inputs varied from trial to trial. If classification was based only on suprathreshold responses, there were 36% BI, 32% E and 32% O neurones. 6. In the majority of neurones, postganglionic discharge was initiated exclusively by suprathreshold inputs, even during reflex excitation. 7. Qualitatively similar, but smaller, responses were evoked by a puff of air on the abdomen in 71% of cells tested. 8. The data suggest that the natural discharge of SCG neurones is largely determined by the activity of one or two preganglionic inputs with high quantal contents. BI neurones may include vasoconstrictor neurones, whereas the other types include secretomotor, pilomotor and other neurones projecting to targets in the head.

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