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1.  Movement- and behavioral state–dependent activity of pontine reticulospinal neurons 
Neuroscience  2012;221:125-139.
Forty-five years ago Shik and colleagues were the first to demonstrate that electrical stimulation of the dorsal pontine reticular formation induced fictive locomotion in decerebrate cats. This supraspinal motor site was subsequently termed the “mesencephalic locomotor region (MLR)”. Cholinergic neurons of the pedunculopontine tegmental nucleus (PPT) have been suggested to form, or at least comprise in part, the neuroanatomical basis for the MLR, but direct evidence is lacking. In an effort to clarify the location and activity profiles of pontine reticulospinal neurons supporting locomotor behaviors, we employed in the present study a retrograde tracing method in combination with single unit recordings and antidromic spinal cord stimulation as well as characterized the locomotor- and behavioral state-dependent activities of both reticulospinal and non-reticulospinal neurons. The retrograde labeling and antidromic stimulation responses suggested a candidate group of reticulospinal neurons that were non-cholinergic and located just medial to the PPT cholinergic neurons and ventral to the cuneiform nucleus (CnF). Unit recordings from these reticulopsinal neurons in freely behaving animals revealed that the preponderance of neurons fired in relation to motor behaviors and that some of these neurons were also active during REM sleep. By contrast, non-reticulospinal neurons, which likely included cholinergic neurons, did not exhibit firing activity in relation to motor behaviors. In summary, the present study provides neuroanatomical and electrophysiological evidence that non-cholinergic, pontine reticulospinal neurons may constitute the major component of the long-sought neuroanatomic MLR in mammals.
PMCID: PMC3424299  PMID: 22796072
mesencephalic locomotor region; rat; single unit activity; sleep-wake REM sleep
2.  The Spinobulbar System in Lamprey 
Brain research reviews  2007;57(1):37-45.
Locomotor networks in the spinal cord are controlled by descending systems which in turn receive feedback signals from ascending systems about the state of the locomotor networks. In lamprey, the ascending system consists of spinobulbar neurons which convey spinal network signals to the two descending systems, the reticulospinal and vestibulospinal neurons. Previous studies showed that spinobulbar neurons consist of both ipsilaterally- and contralaterally-projecting cells distributed at all rostrocaudal levels of the spinal cord, though most numerous near the obex. The axons of spinobulbar neurons ascend in the ventrolateral spinal cord and brainstem to the caudal mesencephalon and within the dendritic arbors of reticulospinal and vestibulospinal neurons. Compared to mammals, the ascending system in lampreys is more direct, consisting of excitatory and inhibitory monosynaptic inputs from spinobulbar neurons to reticulospinal neurons. The spinobulbar neurons are rhythmically active during fictive locomotion, representing a wide range of timing relationships with nearby ventral root bursts including those in phase, out of phase, and active during burst transitions between opposite ventral roots. The spinobulbar neurons are not simply relay cells because they can have mutual synaptic interactions with their reticulospinal neuron targets and they can have synaptic outputs to other spinal neurons. Spinobulbar neurons not only receive locomotor inputs but also receive direct inputs from primary mechanosensory neurons. Due to the relative simplicity of the lamprey nervous system and motor control system, the spinobulbar neurons and their interactions with reticulospinal neurons may be advantageous for investigating the general organization of ascending systems in the vertebrate.
PMCID: PMC2246055  PMID: 17716741
lamprey; spinal cord; locomotion; spinobulbar; reticulospinal
3.  A Novel Neural Substrate for the Transformation of Olfactory Inputs into Motor Output 
PLoS Biology  2010;8(12):e1000567.
Anatomical and physiological experiments in the lamprey reveal the neural circuit involved in transforming olfactory inputs into motor outputs, which was previously unknown in a vertebrate.
It is widely recognized that animals respond to odors by generating or modulating specific motor behaviors. These reactions are important for daily activities, reproduction, and survival. In the sea lamprey, mating occurs after ovulated females are attracted to spawning sites by male sex pheromones. The ubiquity and reliability of olfactory-motor behavioral responses in vertebrates suggest tight coupling between the olfactory system and brain areas controlling movements. However, the circuitry and the underlying cellular neural mechanisms remain largely unknown. Using lamprey brain preparations, and electrophysiology, calcium imaging, and tract tracing experiments, we describe the neural substrate responsible for transforming an olfactory input into a locomotor output. We found that olfactory stimulation with naturally occurring odors and pheromones induced large excitatory responses in reticulospinal cells, the command neurons for locomotion. We have also identified the anatomy and physiology of this circuit. The olfactory input was relayed in the medial part of the olfactory bulb, in the posterior tuberculum, in the mesencephalic locomotor region, to finally reach reticulospinal cells in the hindbrain. Activation of this olfactory-motor pathway generated rhythmic ventral root discharges and swimming movements. Our study bridges the gap between behavior and cellular neural mechanisms in vertebrates, identifying a specific subsystem within the CNS, dedicated to producing motor responses to olfactory inputs.
Author Summary
Animal behaviors, including locomotion, can be driven by olfactory cues, such as pheromones or food sources. The neural substrate (neuroanatomical connections and physiological signals) that permits the transformation of olfactory inputs into locomotor responses is still unknown in vertebrates. In the present study, we identify such a neural substrate in the lamprey. Here, olfactory signals from the outside world are transmitted to the reticulospinal neurons in the lower brainstem, which provide the descending locomotor command to the spinal cord. We found that this circuit originates in the medial portion of the olfactory bulb and that connections are made in the posterior tuberculum, a ventral diencephalic structure. These inputs are then conveyed to the mesencephalic locomotor region, known to project extensively to brainstem reticulospinal neurons and thereby activate locomotion. Our results illuminate a specific dedicated neural substrate in the brain of lampreys that underlies olfactory-motor responses, which is activated by both food-related or pheromonal olfactory cues. It will be of interest to determine whether such a pathway is preserved in all vertebrates.
PMCID: PMC3006349  PMID: 21203583
4.  Cholinergic mechanisms in spinal locomotion—potential target for rehabilitation approaches 
Previous experiments implicate cholinergic brainstem and spinal systems in the control of locomotion. Our results demonstrate that the endogenous cholinergic propriospinal system, acting via M2 and M3 muscarinic receptors, is capable of consistently producing well-coordinated locomotor activity in the in vitro neonatal preparation, placing it in a position to contribute to normal locomotion and to provide a basis for recovery of locomotor capability in the absence of descending pathways. Tests of these suggestions, however, reveal that the spinal cholinergic system plays little if any role in the induction of locomotion, because MLR-evoked locomotion in decerebrate cats is not prevented by cholinergic antagonists. Furthermore, it is not required for the development of stepping movements after spinal cord injury, because cholinergic agonists do not facilitate the appearance of locomotion after spinal cord injury, unlike the dramatic locomotion-promoting effects of clonidine, a noradrenergic α-2 agonist. Furthermore, cholinergic antagonists actually improve locomotor activity after spinal cord injury, suggesting that plastic changes in the spinal cholinergic system interfere with locomotion rather than facilitating it. Changes that have been observed in the cholinergic innervation of motoneurons after spinal cord injury do not decrease motoneuron excitability, as expected. Instead, the development of a “hyper-cholinergic” state after spinal cord injury appears to enhance motoneuron output and suppress locomotion. A cholinergic suppression of afferent input from the limb after spinal cord injury is also evident from our data, and this may contribute to the ability of cholinergic antagonists to improve locomotion. Not only is a role for the spinal cholinergic system in suppressing locomotion after SCI suggested by our results, but an obligatory contribution of a brainstem cholinergic relay to reticulospinal locomotor command systems is not confirmed by our experiments.
PMCID: PMC4222238  PMID: 25414645
spinal rhythm generation; cholinergic mechanisms; in vitro neonatal rat; decerebrate cat; chronic spinal cat; chronic spinal rat
5.  Defining the excitatory neurons that drive the locomotor rhythm in a simple vertebrate: insights into the origin of reticulospinal control 
The Journal of Physiology  2009;587(Pt 20):4829-4844.
Important questions remain about the origin of the excitation that drives locomotion in vertebrates and the roles played by reticulospinal neurons. In young Xenopus tadpoles, paired whole-cell recordings reveal reticulospinal neurons that directly excite swimming circuit neurons in the brainstem and spinal cord. They form part of a column of neurons (dINs) with ipsilateral descending projections which fire reliably and rhythmically in time with swimming. We ask if, at this early stage of development, these reticulospinal neurons are themselves the primary source of rhythmic drive to spinal cord neurons on each cycle of swimming. Loose-patch recordings in the hindbrain and spinal cord from neurons active during fictive swimming distinguished dINs from other neurons by spike shape. These recordings showed that reticulospinal dINs in the caudal hindbrain (rhombomeres 7–8) fire significantly earlier on each swimming cycle than other, ipsilateral, swimming circuit neurons. Whole-cell recordings showed that fast EPSCs typically precede, and probably drive, spikes in most swimming circuit neurons. However, the earliest-firing reticulospinal dINs spike too soon to be driven by underlying fast EPSCs. We propose that rebound following reciprocal inhibition can contribute to early reticulospinal dIN firing during swimming and show rebound firing in dINs following evoked, reciprocal inhibitory PSPs. Our results define reticulospinal neurons that are the source of the primary, descending, rhythmic excitation that drives spinal cord neurons to fire during swimming. These neurons are an integral part of the rhythm generating circuitry. We discuss the origin of these reticulospinal neurons as specialised members of a longitudinally distributed population of excitatory interneurons extending from the brainstem into the spinal cord.
PMCID: PMC2770150  PMID: 19703959
6.  Defining the excitatory neurons that drive the locomotor rhythm in a simple vertebrate: insights into the origin of reticulospinal control 
The Journal of Physiology  2009;587(20):4829-4844.
Important questions remain about the origin of the excitation that drives locomotion in vertebrates and the roles played by reticulospinal neurons. In young Xenopus tadpoles, paired whole-cell recordings reveal reticulospinal neurons that directly excite swimming circuit neurons in the brainstem and spinal cord. They form part of a column of neurons (dINs) with ipsilateral descending projections which fire reliably and rhythmically in time with swimming. We ask if, at this early stage of development, these reticulospinal neurons are themselves the primary source of rhythmic drive to spinal cord neurons on each cycle of swimming. Loose-patch recordings in the hindbrain and spinal cord from neurons active during fictive swimming distinguished dINs from other neurons by spike shape. These recordings showed that reticulospinal dINs in the caudal hindbrain (rhombomeres 7–8) fire significantly earlier on each swimming cycle than other, ipsilateral, swimming circuit neurons. Whole-cell recordings showed that fast EPSCs typically precede, and probably drive, spikes in most swimming circuit neurons. However, the earliest-firing reticulospinal dINs spike too soon to be driven by underlying fast EPSCs. We propose that rebound following reciprocal inhibition can contribute to early reticulospinal dIN firing during swimming and show rebound firing in dINs following evoked, reciprocal inhibitory PSPs. Our results define reticulospinal neurons that are the source of the primary, descending, rhythmic excitation that drives spinal cord neurons to fire during swimming. These neurons are an integral part of the rhythm generating circuitry. We discuss the origin of these reticulospinal neurons as specialised members of a longitudinally distributed population of excitatory interneurons extending from the brainstem into the spinal cord.
PMCID: PMC2770150  PMID: 19703959
7.  Muscarinic Receptor Activation Elicits Sustained, Recurring Depolarizations in Reticulospinal Neurons 
Journal of neurophysiology  2007;97(5):3181-3192.
In lampreys, brain stem reticulospinal (RS) neurons constitute the main descending input to the spinal cord and activate the spinal locomotor central pattern generators. Cholinergic nicotinic inputs activate RS neurons, and consequently, induce locomotion. Cholinergic muscarinic agonists also induce locomotion when applied to the brain stem of birds. This study examined whether bath applications of muscarinic agonists could activate RS neurons and initiate motor output in lampreys. Bath applications of 25 μM muscarine elicited sustained, recurring depolarizations (mean duration of 5.0 ± 0.5 s recurring with a mean period of 55.5 ± 10.3 s) in intracellularly recorded rhombencephalic RS neurons. Calcium imaging experiments revealed that muscarine induced oscillations in calcium levels that occurred synchronously within the RS neuron population. Bath application of TTX abolished the muscarine effect, suggesting the sustained depolarizations in RS neurons are driven by other neurons. A series of lesion experiments suggested the caudal half of the rhombencephalon was necessary. Microinjections of muscarine (75 μM) or the muscarinic receptor (mAchR) antagonist atropine (1 mM) lateral to the rostral pole of the posterior rhombencephalic reticular nucleus induced or prevented, respectively, the muscarinic RS neuron response. Cells immunoreactive for muscarinic receptors were found in this region and could mediate this response. Bath application of glutamatergic antagonists (6-cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione/D-2-amino-5-phosphonovaleric acid) abolished the muscarine effect, suggesting that glutamatergic transmission is needed for the effect. Ventral root recordings showed spinal motor output coincides with RS neuron sustained depolarizations. We propose that unilateral mAchR activation on specific cells in the caudal rhombencephalon activates a circuit that generates synchronous sustained, recurring depolarizations in bilateral populations of RS neurons.
PMCID: PMC2397553  PMID: 17344371
Neuroscience  2004;125(1):25-33.
In the lamprey, spinal locomotor activity can be initiated by pharmacological microstimulation in several brain areas: rostrolateral rhombencephalon (RLR); dorsolateral mesencephalon (DLM); ventromedial diencephalon (VMD); and reticular nuclei. During DLM- or VMD-initiated locomotor activity in in vitro brain/spinal cord preparations, application of a solution that focally depressed neuronal activity in reticular nuclei often attenuated or abolished the locomotor rhythm. Electrical microstimulation in the DLM or VMD elicited synaptic responses in reticulospinal (RS) neurons, and close temporal stimulation in both areas evoked responses that summated and could elicit action potentials when neither input alone was sufficient. During RLR-initiated locomotor activity, focal application of a solution that depressed neuronal activity in the DLM or VMD abolished or attenuated the rhythm. These new results suggest that neurons in the RLR project rostrally to locomotor areas in the DLM and VMD. These latter areas then appear to project caudally to RS neurons, which probably integrate the synaptic inputs from both areas and activate the spinal locomotor networks. These pathways are likely to be important components of the brain neural networks for the initiation of locomotion and have parallels to locomotor command systems in higher vertebrates.
PMCID: PMC2915897  PMID: 15051142
locomotion; command; descending; reticulospinal; central pattern generators
9.  Spinal and supraspinal control of the direction of stepping during locomotion 
Most bipeds and quadrupeds, in addition to forward walking, are also capable of backward and sideward walking. The direction of walking is determined by the direction of stepping movements of individual limbs in relation to the front-to-rear body axis. Our goal was to assess the functional organization of the system controlling the direction of stepping. Experiments were carried out on decerebrate cats walking on the treadmill with their hindlimbs, whereas the head and trunk were rigidly fixed. Different directions of the treadmill motion relative to the body axis were used (0°, ±45°, ±90°, and 180°). For each direction, we compared locomotion evoked from the brainstem (by stimulation of the mesencephalic locomotor region, MLR) with locomotion evoked by epidural stimulation of the spinal cord (SC).
It was found that SC stimulation evoked well-coordinated stepping movements at different treadmill directions. The direction of steps was opposite to the treadmill motion, suggesting that this direction was determined by sensory input from the limb during stance. Thus, SC stimulation activates limb controllers, which are able to generate stepping movements in different directions. By contrast, MLR stimulation evoked well-coordinated stepping movements only if the treadmill was moving in the front-to-rear direction. One can conclude that supraspinal commands (caused by MLR stimulation) select one of the numerous forms of operation of the spinal limb controllers, namely, the forward walking. The MLR can thus be considered as a command center for forward locomotion, which is the main form of progression in bipeds and quadrupeds.
PMCID: PMC3521535  PMID: 23197735
cat; locomotion; MLR; epidural stimulation; step direction
10.  Presynaptic G protein-coupled receptors dynamically modify vesicle fusion, synaptic cleft glutamate concentrations and motor behavior 
Understanding how neuromodulators regulate behavior requires investigating their effects on functional neural systems, but also their underlying cellular mechanisms. Utilizing extensively characterized lamprey motor circuits, and the unique access to reticulospinal presynaptic terminals in the intact spinal cord that initiate these behaviours, we have investigated effects of presynaptic G protein-coupled receptors on locomotion from the systems level, to the molecular control of vesicle fusion. 5-HT inhibits neurotransmitter release via a Gβγ interaction with the SNARE complex that promotes kiss-and-run vesicle fusion. In the lamprey spinal cord we demonstrate that while presynaptic 5-HT receptors inhibit evoked neurotransmitter release from reticulospinal command neurons, their activation does not abolish locomotion, but rather modulates locomotor rhythms. Liberation of presynaptic Gβγ causes substantial inhibition of AMPA receptor-mediated synaptic responses, but leaves NMDA receptor-mediated components of neurotransmission largely intact. Because Gβγ binding to the SNARE complex is displaced by Ca2+-synaptotagmin binding, 5-HT-mediated inhibition displays Ca2+ sensitivity. We show that as Ca2+ accumulates presynaptically during physiological bouts of activity, 5-HT/Gβγ-mediated presynaptic inhibition is relieved leading to a frequency-dependent increase in synaptic concentrations of glutamate. This frequency dependent phenomenon mirrors a shift in the vesicle fusion mode and a recovery of AMPA receptor-mediated EPSCs from inhibition without a modification of NMDA receptor EPSCs. We conclude that activation of presynaptic 5-HT GPCRs state-dependently alters vesicle fusion properties to shift the weight of NMDA vs AMPA receptor-mediated responses at excitatory synapses. We have therefore identified a novel mechanism in which modification of vesicle fusion modes may profoundly alter locomotor behaviour.
PMCID: PMC2756137  PMID: 19692597
fictive locomotion; kiss-and-run; G protein-coupled receptors; serotonin; presynaptic; Gβγ
11.  Descending brain neurons in larval lamprey: Spinal projection patterns and initiation of locomotion 
Experimental neurology  2010;224(2):527-541.
In larval lamprey, partial lesions were made in the rostral spinal cord to determine which spinal tracts are important for descending activation of locomotion and to identify descending brain neurons that project in these tracts. In whole animals and in vitro brain/spinal cord preparations, brain-initiated spinal locomotor activity was present when the lateral or intermediate spinal tracts were spared but usually was abolished when the medial tracts were spared. We previously showed that descending brain neurons are located in eleven cell groups, including reticulospinal (RS) neurons in the mesenecephalic reticular nucleus (MRN) as well as the anterior (ARRN), middle (MRRN), and posterior (PRRN) rhombencephalic reticular nuclei. Other descending brain neurons are located in the diencephalic (Di) as well as the anterolateral (ALV), dorsolateral (DLV), and posterolateral (PLV) vagal groups. In the present study, the Mauthner and auxillary Mauthner cells, most neurons in the Di, ALV, DLV, and PLV cell groups, and some neurons in the ARRN and PRRN had crossed descending axons. The majority of neurons projecting in medial spinal tracts included large identified Müller cells and neurons in the Di, MRN, ALV, and DLV. Axons of individual descending brain neurons usually did not switch spinal tracts, have branches in multiple tracts, or cross the midline within the rostral cord. Most neurons that projected in the lateral/intermediate spinal tracts were in the ARRN, MRRN, and PRRN. Thus, output neurons of the locomotor command system are distributed in several reticular nuclei, whose neurons project in relatively wide areas of the cord.
PMCID: PMC2920350  PMID: 20510243
Locomotor; Command systems; Reticulospinal; Descending pathways; Brain; Locomotor regions
12.  Flexibility in the Patterning and Control of Axial Locomotor Networks in Lamprey 
In lower vertebrates, locomotor burst generators for axial muscles generally produce unitary bursts that alternate between the two sides of the body. In lamprey, a lower vertebrate, locomotor activity in the axial ventral roots of the isolated spinal cord can exhibit flexibility in the timings of bursts to dorsally-located myotomal muscle fibers versus ventrally-located myotomal muscle fibers. These episodes of decreased synchrony can occur spontaneously, especially in the rostral spinal cord where the propagating body waves of swimming originate. Application of serotonin, an endogenous spinal neurotransmitter known to presynaptically inhibit excitatory synapses in lamprey, can promote decreased synchrony of dorsal–ventral bursting. These observations suggest the possible existence of dorsal and ventral locomotor networks with modifiable coupling strength between them. Intracellular recordings of motoneurons during locomotor activity provide some support for this model. Pairs of motoneurons innervating myotomal muscle fibers of similar ipsilateral dorsoventral location tend to have higher correlations of fast synaptic activity during fictive locomotion than do pairs of motoneurons innervating myotomes of different ipsilateral dorsoventral locations, suggesting their control by different populations of premotor interneurons. Further, these different motoneuron pools receive different patterns of excitatory and inhibitory inputs from individual reticulospinal neurons, conveyed in part by different sets of premotor interneurons. Perhaps, then, the locomotor network of the lamprey is not simply a unitary burst generator on each side of the spinal cord that activates all ipsilateral body muscles simultaneously. Instead, the burst generator on each side may comprise at least two coupled burst generators, one controlling motoneurons innervating dorsal body muscles and one controlling motoneurons innervating ventral body muscles. The coupling strength between these two ipsilateral burst generators may be modifiable and weakening when greater swimming maneuverability is required. Variable coupling of intrasegmental burst generators in the lamprey may be a precursor to the variable coupling of burst generators observed in the control of locomotion in the joints of limbed vertebrates.
PMCID: PMC3223480  PMID: 21743089
13.  Neuronal Basis of Crossed Actions from the Reticular Formation on Feline Hindlimb Motoneurons 
Pathways through which reticulospinal neurons can influence contralateral limb movements were investigated by recording from mo-toneurons innervating hindlimb muscles. Reticulospinal tract fibers were stimulated within the brainstem or in the lateral funiculus of the thoracic spinal cord contralateral to the motoneurons. Effects evoked by ipsilaterally descending reticulospinal tract fibers were eliminated by a spinal hemisection at an upper lumbar level. Stimuli applied in the brainstem evoked EPSPs, IPSPs, or both at latencies of 1.42 ± 0.03 and 1.53 ± 0.04 msec, respectively, from the first components of the descending volleys and with properties indicating a disynaptic linkage, in most contralateral motoneurons: EPSPs in 76% and IPSPs in 26%. EPSPs with characteristics of monosynaptically evoked responses, attributable to direct actions of crossed axon collaterals of reticulospinal fibers, were found in a small proportion of the motoneurons, whether evoked from the brainstem (9%) or from the thoracic cord (12.5%). Commissural neurons, which might mediate the crossed disynaptic actions (i.e., were antidromically activated from contralateral motor nuclei and monosynaptically excited from the ipsilateral reticular formation), were found in Rexed’s lamina VIII in the midlumbar segments (L3–L5). The results reveal that although direct actions of reticulospinal fibers are much more potent on ipsilateral motoneurons, interneuronally mediated actions are as potent contralaterally as ipsilaterally, and midlumbar commissural neurons are likely to contribute to them. They indicate a close coupling between the spinal interneuronal systems used by the reticulospinal neurons to coordinate muscle contractions ipsilaterally and contralaterally.
PMCID: PMC1890022  PMID: 12629191
spinal cord; reticulospinal neurons; commissural neurons; motoneurons; interneurons; spinal neuronal networks
14.  Are Crossed Actions of Reticulospinal and Vestibulospinal Neurons on Feline Motoneurons Mediated by the Same or Separate Commissural Neurons? 
Both reticulo- and vestibulospinal neurons coordinate the activity of ipsilateral and contralateral limb muscles. The aim of this study was to investigate whether their actions on contralateral motoneurons are mediated via common interneurons. Two series of experiments were made on deeply anesthetized cats. First, the effects of stimuli applied within the lateral vestibular nucleus and to reticulospinal tract fibers within or close to the medial longitudinal fascicle in the medulla were tested on midlumbar commissural interneurons that projected to contralateral motor nuclei. EPSPs of vestibular origin were found in 16 of 20 (80%) of the interneurons, all of which were excited monosynaptically by reticulospinal fibers. These EPSPs were evoked either monosynaptically or disynaptically. Second, the effects of stimuli applied at the same two locations were tested on contralateral motoneurons, selecting motoneurons in which large disynaptic EPSPs or IPSPs were evoked by reticulospinal fibers. When stimuli that were too weak to evoke any PSPs by themselves were applied together, similar EPSPs or IPSPs were evoked in all 26 motoneurons that were tested, indicating that spatial facilitation occurred premotoneuronally. Facilitation was strongest at those intervals optimal for summation of monosynaptic and/or disynaptic EPSPs evoked in commissural neurons by the earliest reticulospinal and vestibulospinal volleys. The same interneurons thus may be used by reticulospinal and vestibulospinal neurons to influence the activity of contralateral hindlimb muscles. Separate modulation of commands from these two descending neuronal systems may occur at the level of the interneurons that mediate disynaptic excitation of commissural neurons by reticulospinal and vestibulospinal neurons, thereby increasing their flexibility.
PMCID: PMC1890039  PMID: 12954866
spinal cord; postural reactions; reticulospinal neurons; vestibulospinal neurons; commissural neurons; motoneurons
15.  Volatile Anesthetic Effects on Midbrain-elicited Locomotion Suggest that the Locomotor Network in the Ventral Spinal Cord Is the Primary Site for Immobility 
Anesthesiology  2008;108(6):1016-1024.
Volatile anesthetics produce immobility primarily by action in the spinal cord; however, anesthetic effects among different neuronal classes located in different spinal regions, and how they relate to immobility, are not understood.
In decerebrated rats, effects of isoflurane and halothane on movement elicited by electrical microstimulation of the mesencephalic locomotor region (MLR) were assessed in relation to minimum alveolar concentration (MAC). Anesthetic effects on step frequency and isometric limb force were measured. The authors also examined effects of MLR stimulation on responses of nociceptive dorsal horn neurons and limb force responses to tail clamp.
Mean isoflurane requirements to block MLR-elicited stepping were slightly but significantly greater than MAC by 10%. Mean halothane requirements to block MLR-elicited stepping were greater than those for isoflurane and exceeded MAC by 20%. From 0.4 to 1.3 MAC (but not 0.0 to 0.4 MAC), there was a dose-dependent reduction in the frequency and force of hind limb movements elicited by MLR stimulation during both anesthetics. MLR stimulation inhibited noxious stimulus evoked responses of dorsal horn neurons by approximately 80%. Aptly, MLR stimulation produced analgesia that outlasted the midbrain stimulus by at least 15 s, as indicated by an 81% reduction in hind limb force elicited noxious tail clamp.
Because electrical stimulation of the MLR elicits movement independent of dorsal horn activation, the results suggest that the immobilizing properties of isoflurane and halothane are largely independent of action in the dorsal horn. The results suggest that volatile anesthetics produce immobility mainly by action on ventral spinal locomotor networks.
PMCID: PMC2713759  PMID: 18497602
16.  Contribution of supraspinal systems to generation of automatic postural responses 
Different species maintain a particular body orientation in space due to activity of the closed-loop postural control system. In this review we discuss the role of neurons of descending pathways in operation of this system as revealed in animal models of differing complexity: lower vertebrate (lamprey) and higher vertebrates (rabbit and cat). In the lamprey and quadruped mammals, the role of spinal and supraspinal mechanisms in the control of posture is different. In the lamprey, the system contains one closed-loop mechanism consisting of supraspino-spinal networks. Reticulospinal (RS) neurons play a key role in generation of postural corrections. Due to vestibular input, any deviation from the stabilized body orientation leads to activation of a specific population of RS neurons. Each of the neurons activates a specific motor synergy. Collectively, these neurons evoke the motor output necessary for the postural correction. In contrast to lampreys, postural corrections in quadrupeds are primarily based not on the vestibular input but on the somatosensory input from limb mechanoreceptors. The system contains two closed-loop mechanisms – spinal and spino-supraspinal networks, which supplement each other. Spinal networks receive somatosensory input from the limb signaling postural perturbations, and generate spinal postural limb reflexes. These reflexes are relatively weak, but in intact animals they are enhanced due to both tonic supraspinal drive and phasic supraspinal commands. Recent studies of these supraspinal influences are considered in this review. A hypothesis suggesting common principles of operation of the postural systems stabilizing body orientation in a particular plane in the lamprey and quadrupeds, that is interaction of antagonistic postural reflexes, is discussed.
PMCID: PMC4181245  PMID: 25324741
balance control; postural reflexes; reticulospinal neurons; pyramidal tract neurons; rubrospinal neurons; unilateral labyrinthectomy; galvanic vestibular stimulation
17.  Periaqueductal Gray neurons project to spinally projecting GABAergic neurons in the rostral ventromedial medulla 
Pain  2008;140(2):376-386.
The analgesic effects of morphine are mediated, in part, by periaqueductal gray (PAG) neurons that project to the rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM). Although much of the neural circuitry within the RVM has been described, the relationship between RVM neurons and PAG input and spinal output is not known. The objective of this study was to determine whether GABAergic output neurons from the PAG target RVM reticulospinal neurons. Immunocytochemistry and confocal microscopy revealed that PAG neurons project extensively to RVM neurons projecting to the spinal cord, and two-thirds of these reticulospinal neurons appear to be GABAergic (contain GAD67 immunoreactivity). The majority (71%) of PAG fibers that contact RVM reticulospinal GAD67-immunoreactive neurons also contained GAD67 immunoreactivity. Thus, there is an inhibitory projection from PAG to inhibitory RVM reticulospinal neurons. However, there also were PAG projections to the RVM that did not contain GAD67 immunoreactivity. Additional experiments were conducted to determine whether the heterogeneity in this projection can be explained by the electrophysiological character of the RVM target neurons. PAG projections to electrophysiologically defined and juxtacellularly filled ON, OFF, and Neutral cells in the RVM were examined. Similar to the pattern reported above, both GAD67- and non-GAD67-immunoreactive PAG neurons project to RVM ON, OFF, and Neutral cells in the RVM. These inputs include a GAD67-immunoreactive projection to a GAD67-immunoreactive ON cell and non-GAD67 projections to GAD67-immunoreactive OFF cells. This pattern is consistent with PAG neurons producing antinociception by direct excitation of RVM OFF cells and inhibition of ON cells.
PMCID: PMC2704017  PMID: 18926635
antinociception; immunocytochemistry; pain modulation
18.  Direct and Indirect Connections with Upper Limb Motoneurons from the Primate Reticulospinal Tract 
Although a major descending motor pathway in mammals, the reticulospinal tract’s contribution to upper limb control in primates has received relatively little attention. Reticulospinal connections are widely assumed to be responsible for coordinated gross movements primarily of proximal muscles, whereas the corticospinal tract mediates fine movements, particularly of the hand. In this study, we employed intracellular recording in anaesthetised monkeys to examine the synaptic connections between the reticulospinal tract and antidromically identified cervical ventral horn motoneurons, focussing in particular on motoneurons projecting distally to wrist and digit muscles. We found that motoneurons receive mono- and disynaptic reticulospinal inputs, including monosynaptic excitatory connections to motoneurons that innervate intrinsic hand muscles, a connection not previously known to exist. We show that excitatory reticulomotoneuronal connections are as common and as strong in hand motoneuron groups as in forearm or upper arm motoneurons. These data suggest that the primate reticulospinal system may form a parallel pathway to distal muscles, alongside the corticospinal tract. Reticulospinal neurons are therefore in a position to influence upper limb muscle activity after damage to the corticospinal system as may occur in stroke or spinal cord injury, and may be a target site for therapeutic interventions.
PMCID: PMC2690979  PMID: 19369568
Reticular formation; reticulospinal; corticospinal; motoneurons; hand movement; Motor Control
19.  Expression of the repulsive guidance molecule RGM and it receptor Neogenin after spinal cord injury in sea lamprey 
Experimental neurology  2009;217(2):242-251.
The sea lamprey recovers normal-appearing locomotion after spinal cord transection and its spinal axons regenerate selectively in their correct paths. However, among identified reticulospinal neurons some are consistently bad regenerators and only about 50% of severed reticulospinal axons regenerate through the site of injury. We previously suggested (Shifman and Selzer, 2000) that selective chemorepulsion might explain why some neurons are bad regenerators and others not. To explore the role of additional chemorepulsive axonal guidance molecules during regeneration, we examined the expression of the repulsive guidance molecule (RGM) and its receptor neogenin by in situ hybridization and quantitative PCR. RGM mRNA was expressed in the spinal cord, primarily in neurons of the lateral gray matter and in dorsal cells. Following spinal cord transection, RGM message was downregulated in neurons close (within 10 mm) to the transection at 2 and 4 weeks, although it was upregulated in reactive microglia at 2 weeks post-transection. Neogenin mRNA expression was unchanged in the brainstem after spinal cord transection, and among the identified reticulospinal neurons, was detected only in “bad regenerators, Neurons that are known to regenerate well never expressed neogenin. The downregulation of RGM expression in neurons near the transection may increase the probability that regenerating axons will regenerate through the site of injury and entered caudal spinal cord.
PMCID: PMC2683912  PMID: 19268666
axonal guidance; spinal cord regeneration; in situ hybridization; RGM; neogenin; lamprey; microglia
20.  Brainstem Reticulospinal Neurons are Targets for Corticotropin-Releasing Factor-Induced Locomotion in Roughskin Newts 
Hormones and behavior  2009;57(2):237.
Stress-induced release or central administration of corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) enhances locomotion in a wide range of vertebrates, including the roughskin newt, Taricha granulosa. Although CRF’s stimulatory actions on locomotor behavior are well established, the target neurons through which CRF exerts this effect remain unknown. To identify these target neurons, we utilized a fluorescent conjugate of CRF (CRF-TAMRA 1) to track this peptide’s internalization into reticulospinal and other neurons in the medullary reticular formation (MRF), a region critically involved in regulating locomotion. Epifluorescent and confocal microscopy revealed that CRF-TAMRA 1 was internalized by diverse MRF neurons, including reticulospinal neurons retrogradely labeled with Cascade Blue dextran. In addition, we immunohistochemically identified a distinct subset of serotonin-containing neurons, located throughout the medullary raphé, that also internalized the fluorescent CRF-TAMRA 1 conjugate. Chronic single-unit recordings obtained from microwire electrodes in behaving newts revealed that intracerebroventricular (icv) administration of CRF-TAMRA 1 increased medullary neuronal firing and that appearance of this firing was associated with, and strongly predictive of, episodes of CRF-induced locomotion. Furthermore, icv administered CRF-TAMRA 1 produced behavioral and neurophysiological effects identical to equimolar doses of unlabeled CRF. Collectively, these findings provide the first evidence that CRF directly targets reticulospinal and serotonergic neurons in the MRF and indicate that CRF may enhance locomotion via direct effects on the hindbrain, including the reticulospinal system.
PMCID: PMC2814980  PMID: 19968991
CRF target neurons; stress-induced locomotion; serotonin neurons; chronic single-unit recording; amphibian
21.  Elimination of the Vesicular Acetylcholine Transporter in the Striatum Reveals Regulation of Behaviour by Cholinergic-Glutamatergic Co-Transmission 
PLoS Biology  2011;9(11):e1001194.
A novel mouse model that eliminates cholinergic neurotransmission in the striatum while leaving glutamate release intact reveals differential effects on cocaine-induced behavior and dopaminergic responses.
Cholinergic neurons in the striatum are thought to play major regulatory functions in motor behaviour and reward. These neurons express two vesicular transporters that can load either acetylcholine or glutamate into synaptic vesicles. Consequently cholinergic neurons can release both neurotransmitters, making it difficult to discern their individual contributions for the regulation of striatal functions. Here we have dissected the specific roles of acetylcholine release for striatal-dependent behaviour in mice by selective elimination of the vesicular acetylcholine transporter (VAChT) from striatal cholinergic neurons. Analysis of several behavioural parameters indicates that elimination of VAChT had only marginal consequences in striatum-related tasks and did not affect spontaneous locomotion, cocaine-induced hyperactivity, or its reward properties. However, dopaminergic sensitivity of medium spiny neurons (MSN) and the behavioural outputs in response to direct dopaminergic agonists were enhanced, likely due to increased expression/function of dopamine receptors in the striatum. These observations indicate that previous functions attributed to striatal cholinergic neurons in spontaneous locomotor activity and in the rewarding responses to cocaine are mediated by glutamate and not by acetylcholine release. Our experiments demonstrate how one population of neurons can use two distinct neurotransmitters to differentially regulate a given circuitry. The data also raise the possibility of using VAChT as a target to boost dopaminergic function and decrease high striatal cholinergic activity, common neurochemical alterations in individuals affected with Parkinson's disease.
Author Summary
The neurotransmitters dopamine and acetylcholine play opposite roles in the striatum (a brain region involved in motor control and reward-related behaviour), and their balance is thought to be critical for striatal function. Acetylcholine in the striatum has been linked to a number of functions, including control of locomotor activity and response to drugs of abuse. However, striatal cholinergic interneurons can also release glutamate (in addition to acetylcholine) and it is presently unclear how these two neurotransmitters regulate striatal-dependent behaviour. Previous work has attempted to resolve this issue by ablating cholinergic neurons in the striatum, but this causes loss of both cholinergic and glutamatergic neurotransmission. In this study, we created a novel genetic mouse model which allowed us to selectively interfere with secretion of acetylcholine in the striatum, while leaving total striatal glutamate release intact. In these mice, we observed minimally altered behavioural responses to cocaine, suggesting that striatal glutamate, rather than acetylcholine, is critical for cocaine-induced behavioural manifestations. Furthermore, elimination of striatal acetylcholine release affects how striatal output neurons respond to dopamine, by up-regulating dopaminergic receptors and changing behavioural responses to dopaminergic agonists. Our experiments highlight a previously unappreciated physiological role of cholinergic-glutamatergic co-transmission and demonstrate how a population of neurons can use two distinct neurotransmitters to differentially regulate behaviour.
PMCID: PMC3210783  PMID: 22087075
22.  The Glutamatergic Neurons in the Spinal Cord of the Sea Lamprey: An In Situ Hybridization and Immunohistochemical Study 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e47898.
Glutamate is the main excitatory neurotransmitter involved in spinal cord circuits in vertebrates, but in most groups the distribution of glutamatergic spinal neurons is still unknown. Lampreys have been extensively used as a model to investigate the neuronal circuits underlying locomotion. Glutamatergic circuits have been characterized on the basis of the excitatory responses elicited in postsynaptic neurons. However, the presence of glutamatergic neurochemical markers in spinal neurons has not been investigated. In this study, we report for the first time the expression of a vesicular glutamate transporter (VGLUT) in the spinal cord of the sea lamprey. We also study the distribution of glutamate in perikarya and fibers. The largest glutamatergic neurons found were the dorsal cells and caudal giant cells. Two additional VGLUT-positive gray matter populations, one dorsomedial consisting of small cells and another one lateral consisting of small and large cells were observed. Some cerebrospinal fluid-contacting cells also expressed VGLUT. In the white matter, some edge cells and some cells associated with giant axons (Müller and Mauthner axons) and the dorsolateral funiculus expressed VGLUT. Large lateral cells and the cells associated with reticulospinal axons are in a key position to receive descending inputs involved in the control of locomotion. We also compared the distribution of glutamate immunoreactivity with that of γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glycine. Colocalization of glutamate and GABA or glycine was observed in some small spinal cells. These results confirm the glutamatergic nature of various neuronal populations, and reveal new small-celled glutamatergic populations, predicting that some glutamatergic neurons would exert complex actions on postsynaptic neurons.
PMCID: PMC3478272  PMID: 23110124
23.  Cholinergic Partition Cells and Lamina X Neurons Induce a Muscarinic-Dependent Short-Term Potentiation of Commissural Glutamatergic Inputs in Lumbar Motoneurons 
Acetylcholine and the activation of muscarinic receptors influence the activity of neural networks generating locomotor behavior in the mammalian spinal cord. Using electrical stimulations of the ventral commissure, we show that commissural muscarinic (CM) depolarizations could be induced in lumbar motoneurons. We provide a detailed electrophysiological characterization of the muscarinic receptors and the membrane conductance involved in these responses. Activation of the CM terminals, originating from lamina X neurons and partition cells, induced a pathway-specific short-term potentiation (STP) of commissural glutamatergic inputs in motoneurons. This STP is occluded in the presence of the muscarinic antagonist atropine. During fictive locomotion, the activation of the commissural pathways transiently enhanced the motor output in a muscarinic-dependent manner. This study describes for the first time a novel regulatory mechanism of synaptic strength in spinal locomotor networks. Such cellular mechanisms would endow the locomotor central pattern generators with adaptive processes needed to generate appropriate synaptic inputs to motoneurons during different motor tasks.
PMCID: PMC3208176  PMID: 22069380
motoneurons; muscarinic-dependent-short-term potentiation/modulation of synaptic transmission; commissural cholinergic interneurons
24.  The Neuroanatomical Organization of Projection Neurons Associated with Different Olfactory Bulb Pathways in the Sea Lamprey, Petromyzon marinus 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e69525.
Although there is abundant evidence for segregated processing in the olfactory system across vertebrate taxa, the spatial relationship between the second order projection neurons (PNs) of olfactory subsystems connecting sensory input to higher brain structures is less clear. In the sea lamprey, there is tight coupling between olfaction and locomotion via PNs extending to the posterior tuberculum from the medial region of the olfactory bulb. This medial region receives peripheral input predominantly from the accessory olfactory organ. However, the axons from olfactory sensory neurons residing in the main olfactory epithelium extend to non-medial regions of the olfactory bulb, and the non-medial bulbar PNs extend their axons to the lateral pallium. It is not known if the receptive fields of the PNs in the two output pathways overlap; nor has the morphology of these PNs been investigated. In this study, retrograde labelling was utilized to investigate the PNs belonging to medial and non-medial projections. The dendrites and somata of the medial PNs were confined to medial glomerular neuropil, and dendrites of non-medial PNs did not enter this territory. The cell bodies and dendrites of the non-medial PNs were predominantly located below the glomeruli (frequently deeper in the olfactory bulb). While PNs in both locations contained single or multiple primary dendrites, the somal size was greater for medial than for non-medial PNs. When considered with the evidence-to-date, this study shows different neuroanatomical organization for medial olfactory bulb PNs extending to locomotor control centers and non-medial PNs extending to the lateral pallium in this vertebrate.
PMCID: PMC3726628  PMID: 23922730
25.  Skilled Reaching and Grasping in the Rat: Lacking Effect of Corticospinal Lesion 
The corticospinal system is a major motor pathway in the control of skilled voluntary movements such as reaching and grasping. It has developed considerably phylogenetically to reach a peak in humans. Because rodents possess advanced forelimb movements that can be used for reaching and grasping food, it is commonly considered that the corticospinal tract (CST) is of major importance for this control also in rodents. A close homology to primate reaching and grasping has been described but with obvious limitations as to independent digit movements, which are lacking in rodents. Nevertheless, it was believed that there are, as in the primate, direct cortico-motoneuronal connections. Later, it was shown that there are no such connections. The fastest excitatory pathway is disynaptic, mediated via cortico-reticulospinal neurons and in the spinal cord the excitation is mainly polysynaptically mediated via segmental interneurons. Earlier behavioral studies have aimed at investigating the role of the CST by using pyramidotomy in the brainstem. However, in addition to interrupting the CST, a pyramidal transection abolishes the input to reticulospinal neurons. It is therefore not possible to conclude if the deficits after pyramidotomy result from interruption of the CST or the input to reticulospinal neurons or both. We have re-investigated the role of the CST by examining the effect of a CST lesion in the C1–C2 spinal segments on the success rate of reaching and grasping. This lesion spares the cortico-reticulospinal pathway. In contrast to investigations using pyramidal transections, the present study did not demonstrate marked deficits in reaching and grasping. We propose that the difference in results can be explained by the intact cortical input to reticulospinal neurons in our study and thus implicate an important role of this pathway in the control of reaching and grasping in the rat.
PMCID: PMC4064553  PMID: 24999340
skilled forelimb movements; reaching; grasping; corticospinal tract lesion; reticulospinal; interneuron; motorneuron

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