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J Neurophysiol. 2012 Jul;108(2):441-52. doi: 10.1152/jn.00457.2011. Epub 2012 Apr 11.

Long-term actions of BDNF on inhibitory synaptic transmission in identified neurons of the rat substantia gelatinosa.

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Department of Pharmacology and Centre for Neuroscience, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.


Peripheral nerve injury promotes the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) from spinal microglial cells and primary afferent terminals. This induces an increase in dorsal horn excitability that contributes to "central sensitization" and to the onset of neuropathic pain. Although it is accepted that impairment of GABAergic and/or glycinergic inhibition contributes to this process, certain lines of evidence suggest that GABA release in the dorsal horn may increase after nerve injury. To resolve these contradictory findings, we exposed rat spinal cord neurons in defined-medium organotypic culture to 200 ng/ml BDNF for 6 days to mimic the change in spinal BDNF levels that accompanies peripheral nerve injury. Morphological and electrophysiological criteria and glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) immunohistochemistry were used to distinguish putative inhibitory tonic-islet-central neurons from putative excitatory delay-radial neurons. Whole cell recording in the presence of 1 μM tetrodotoxin showed that BDNF increased the amplitude of GABAergic and glycinergic miniature inhibitory postsynaptic currents (mIPSCs) in both cell types. It also increased the amplitude and frequency of spontaneous, action potential-dependent IPSCs (sIPSCs) in putative excitatory neurons. By contrast, BDNF reduced sIPSC amplitude in inhibitory neurons but frequency was unchanged. This increase in inhibitory drive to excitatory neurons and decreased inhibitory drive to inhibitory neurons seems inconsistent with the observation that BDNF increases overall dorsal horn excitability. One of several explanations for this discrepancy is that the action of BDNF in the substantia gelatinosa is dominated by previously documented increases in excitatory synaptic transmission rather than by impediment of inhibitory transmission.

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