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J Neurophysiol. 1998 Oct;80(4):2038-45.

Short-term plasticity in hindlimb motoneurons of decerebrate cats.

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Department of Medical Physiology, The Panum Institute, University of Copenhagen, Blegdamsvej 3, Copenhagen N, Denmark.


Cat hindlimb motoneurons possess noninactivating voltage-gated inward currents that can, under appropriate conditions, regeneratively produce sustained increments in depolarization and firing of the cell (i.e., plateau potentials). Recent studies in turtle dorsal horn neurons and motoneurons indicate that facilitation of plateaus occurs with repeated plateau activation (decreased threshold and increased duration; this phenomenon is referred to as warm-up). The purpose of the present study was to study warm-up in cat motoneurons. Initially, cells were studied by injecting a slow triangular current ramp intracellularly to determine the threshold for activation of the plateau. In cells where the sodium spikes were blocked with intracellular QX314, plateau activation was readily seen as a sudden jump in membrane potential, which was not directly reversed as the current was decreased (cf. hysteresis). With normal spiking, the plateau activation (the noninactivating inward current) was reflected by a steep and sustained jump in firing rate, which was not directly reversed as the current was decreased (hysteresis). Repetitive plateau activation significantly lowered the plateau activation threshold in 83% of cells (by on average 5 mV and 11 Hz with and without QX314, respectively). This interaction between successive plateaus (warm-up) occurred when tested with 3- to 6-s intervals; no interaction occurred at times >20 s. Plateaus initiated by synaptic activation from muscle stretch were also facilitated by repetition. Repeated slow muscle stretches that produced small phasic responses when a cell was hyperpolarized with intracellular current bias produced a larger and more prolonged responses (plateau) when the bias was removed, and the amplitude and duration of this response grew with repetition. The effects of warm-up seen with intracellular recordings during muscle stretch could also be recorded extracellularly with gross electromyographic (EMG) recordings. That is, the same repetitive stretch as above produced a progressively larger and more prolonged EMG response. Warm-up may be a functionally important form of short-term plasticity in motoneurons that secures efficient motor output once a threshold level is reached for a significant period. Finally, the finding that warm-up can be readily observed with gross EMG recordings will be useful in future studies of plateaus in awake animals and humans.

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