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J Neurophysiol. 2012 Aug 1;108(3):729-40. doi: 10.1152/jn.00091.2012. Epub 2012 May 9.

Membrane properties and electrogenesis in the distal axons of small dorsal root ganglion neurons in vitro.

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1Department of Neurology and Center for Neuroscience and Regeneration Research, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.


Although it is generally thought that sensory transduction occurs at or close to peripheral nerve endings, with action potentials subsequently propagating along the axons of dorsal root ganglia (DRG) neurons toward the central nervous system, the small diameter of nociceptive axons and their endings have made it difficult to estimate their membrane properties and electrogenic characteristics. Even the resting potentials of nociceptive axons are unknown. In this study, we developed the capability to record directly with patch-clamp electrodes from the small-diameter distal axons of DRG neurons in vitro. We showed using current-clamp recordings that 1) these sensory axons have a resting potential of -60.2 ± 1 mV; 2) both tetrodotoxin (TTX)-sensitive (TTX-S) and TTX-resistant (TTX-R) Na(+) channels are present and available for activation at resting potential, at densities that can support action potential electrogenesis in these axons; 3) TTX-sensitive channels contribute to the amplification of small depolarizations that are subthreshold with respect to the action potential in these axons; 4) TTX-R channels can support the production of action potentials in these axons; and 5) these TTX-R channels can produce repetitive firing, even at depolarized membrane potentials where TTX-S channels are inactivated. Finally, using voltage-clamp recordings with an action potential as the command, we confirmed the presence of both TTX-S and TTX-R channels, which are activated sequentially during action potential in these axons. These results provide direct evidence for the presence of TTX-S and TTX-R Na(+) channels that are functionally available at resting potential and contribute to electrogenesis in small-diameter afferent axons.

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