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1.  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
2.  Somato-dendritic morphology and dendritic signal transfer properties differentiate between fore- and hindlimb innervating motoneurons in the frog Rana esculenta 
BMC Neuroscience  2012;13:68.
The location specific motor pattern generation properties of the spinal cord along its rostro-caudal axis have been demonstrated. However, it is still unclear that these differences are due to the different spinal interneuronal networks underlying locomotions or there are also segmental differences in motoneurons innervating different limbs. Frogs use their fore- and hindlimbs differently during jumping and swimming. Therefore we hypothesized that limb innervating motoneurons, located in the cervical and lumbar spinal cord, are different in their morphology and dendritic signal transfer properties. The test of this hypothesis what we report here.
Discriminant analysis classified segmental origin of the intracellularly labeled and three-dimensionally reconstructed motoneurons 100% correctly based on twelve morphological variables. Somata of lumbar motoneurons were rounder; the dendrites had bigger total length, more branches with higher branching orders and different spatial distributions of branch points. The ventro-medial extent of cervical dendrites was bigger than in lumbar motoneurons. Computational models of the motoneurons showed that dendritic signal transfer properties were also different in the two groups of motoneurons. Whether log attenuations were higher or lower in cervical than in lumbar motoneurons depended on the proximity of dendritic input to the soma. To investigate dendritic voltage and current transfer properties imposed by dendritic architecture rather than by neuronal size we used standardized distributions of transfer variables. We introduced a novel combination of cluster analysis and homogeneity indexes to quantify segmental segregation tendencies of motoneurons based on their dendritic transfer properties. A segregation tendency of cervical and lumbar motoneurons was detected by the rates of steady-state and transient voltage-amplitude transfers from dendrites to soma at all levels of synaptic background activities, modeled by varying the specific dendritic membrane resistance. On the other hand no segregation was observed by the steady-state current transfer except under high background activity.
We found size-dependent and size-independent differences in morphology and electrical structure of the limb moving motoneurons based on their spinal segmental location in frogs. Location specificity of locomotor networks is therefore partly due to segmental differences in motoneurons driving fore-, and hindlimbs.
PMCID: PMC3472316  PMID: 22708833
3.  Modeling the mammalian locomotor CPG: insights from mistakes and perturbations 
Progress in brain research  2007;165:235-253.
A computational model of the mammalian spinal cord circuitry incorporating a two-level central pattern generator (CPG) with separate half-center rhythm generator (RG) and pattern formation (PF) networks is reviewed. The model consists of interacting populations of interneurons and motoneurons described in the Hodgkin-Huxley style. Locomotor rhythm generation is based on a combination of intrinsic (persistent sodium current dependent) properties of excitatory RG neurons and reciprocal inhibition between the two half-centers comprising the RG. The two-level architecture of the CPG was suggested from an analysis of deletions (spontaneous omissions of activity) and the effects of afferent stimulation on the locomotor pattern and rhythm observed during fictive locomotion in the cat. The RG controls the activity of the PF network that in turn defines the rhythmic pattern of motoneuron activity. The model produces realistic firing patterns of two antagonist motoneuron populations and generates locomotor oscillations encompassing the range of cycle periods and phase durations observed during cat locomotion. A number of features of the real CPG operation can be reproduced with separate RG and PF networks, which would be difficult if not impossible to demonstrate with a classical single-level CPG. The two-level architecture allows the CPG to maintain the phase of locomotor oscillations and cycle timing during deletions and during sensory stimulation. The model provides a basis for functional identification of spinal interneurons involved in generation and control of the locomotor pattern.
PMCID: PMC2408748  PMID: 17925250
spinal cord; CPG; rhythm generation; locomotion; afferent control
4.  Organization of mammalian locomotor rhythm and pattern generation 
Brain research reviews  2007;57(1):134-146.
Central pattern generators (CPGs) located in the spinal cord produce the coordinated activation of flexor and extensor motoneurons during locomotion. Previously proposed architectures for the spinal locomotor CPG have included the classical half-center oscillator and the unit burst generator (UBG) comprised of multiple coupled oscillators. We have recently proposed another organization in which a two-level CPG has a common rhythm generator (RG) that controls the operation of the pattern formation (PF) circuitry responsible for motoneuron activation. These architectures are discussed in relation to recent data obtained during fictive locomotion in the decerebrate cat. The data show that the CPG can maintain the period and phase of locomotor oscillations both during spontaneous deletions of motoneuron activity and during sensory stimulation affecting motoneuron activity throughout the limb. The proposed two-level CPG organization has been investigated with a computational model which incorporates interactions between the CPG, spinal circuits and afferent inputs. The model includes interacting populations of spinal interneurons and motoneurons modeled in the Hodgkin-Huxley style. Our simulations demonstrate that a relatively simple CPG with separate RG and PF networks can realistically reproduce many experimental phenomena including spontaneous deletions of motoneuron activity and a variety of effects of afferent stimulation. The model suggests plausible explanations for a number of features of real CPG operation that would be difficult to explain in the framework of the classical single-level CPG organization. Some modeling predictions and directions for further studies of locomotor CPG organization are discussed.
PMCID: PMC2214837  PMID: 17936363
CPG; computational models; spinal cord; decerebrate; cat
5.  The Use of PRV-Bartha to Define Premotor Inputs to Lumbar Motoneurons in the Neonatal Spinal Cord of the Mouse 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(7):e11743.
The neonatal mouse has become a model system for studying the locomotor function of the lumbar spinal cord. However, information about the synaptic connectivity within the governing neural network remains scarce. A neurotropic pseudorabies virus (PRV) Bartha has been used to map neuronal connectivity in other parts of the nervous system, due to its ability to travel trans-neuronally. Its use in spinal circuits regulating locomotion has been limited and no study has defined the time course of labelling for neurons known to project monosynaptically to motoneurons.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Here we investigated the ability of PRV Bartha, expressing green and/or red fluorescence, to label spinal neurons projecting monosynaptically to motoneurons of two principal hindlimb muscles, the tibialis anterior (TA) and gastrocnemius (GC). As revealed by combined immunocytochemistry and confocal microscopy, 24–32 h after the viral muscle injection the label was restricted to the motoneuron pool while at 32–40 h the fluorescence was seen in interneurons throughout the medial and lateral ventral grey matter. Two classes of ipsilateral interneurons known to project monosynaptically to motoneurons (Renshaw cells and cells of origin of C-terminals) were consistently labeled at 40 h post-injection but also a group in the ventral grey matter contralaterally. Our results suggest that the labeling of last order interneurons occurred 8–12 h after motoneuron labeling and we presume this is the time taken by the virus to cross one synapse, to travel retrogradely and to replicate in the labeled cells.
The study establishes the time window for virally - labelling monosynaptic projections to lumbar motoneurons following viral injection into hindlimb muscles. Moreover, it provides a good foundation for intracellular targeting of the labeled neurons in future physiological studies and better understanding the functional organization of the lumbar neural networks.
PMCID: PMC2909228  PMID: 20668534
6.  Synaptic integration of rhythmogenic neurons in the locomotor circuitry: the case of Hb9 interneurons 
Innovative molecular and genetic techniques have recently led to the identification of genetically defined populations of ipsilaterally projecting excitatory interneurons with probable functions in the rhythm-generating kernel of the central pattern generators (CPGs). The role of interneuronal populations in specific motor function is determined by their synaptic inputs, intrinsic properties, and target neurons. In this review we examine whether Hb9-expressing interneurons (Hb9 INs) fulfill a set of criteria that are the hallmarks of rhythm generators in the locomotor circuitry. Induced locomotor-like activity in this distinct population of ventral interneurons is in phase with bursts of motor activity, raising the possibility that they are part of the locomotor generator. To increase our understanding of the integrative function of Hb9 INs in the locomotor CPG, we investigated the cellular mechanisms underlying their rhythmic activity and examined the properties of synaptic inputs from low-threshold afferents and possible synaptic contacts with segmental motoneurons. Our findings suggest that the rhythmogenic Hb9 INs are integral components of the sensorimotor circuitry that regulate locomotor-like activity in the spinal cord.
PMCID: PMC3057624  PMID: 20536922
locomotor-like rhythms; rhythmogenic interneurons; Hb9 interneurons; rhythm-generating kernel; locomotor central pattern generator; Hb9:eGFP transgenic mouse
7.  A Gradient in Endogenous Rhythmicity and Oscillatory Drive Matches Recruitment Order in an Axial Motor Pool 
The rhythmic firing behavior of spinal motoneurons is a function of their electrical properties and synaptic inputs. However, the relative contribution of endogenous versus network-based rhythmogenic mechanisms to locomotion is unclear. To address this issue, we have recorded from identified motoneurons and compared their current-evoked firing patterns to network-driven ones in the larval zebrafish (Danio rerio). Zebrafish axial motoneurons are recruited topographically from the bottom of the spinal cord up. Here, we have explored differences in the morphology of axial motoneurons, their electrical properties and their synaptic drive, to reveal how they match the topographic pattern of recruitment. More ventrally located ‘secondary’ motoneurons generate bursts of action potentials in response to constant current steps, demonstrating a strong inherent rhythmogenesis. The membrane potential oscillations underlying bursting behavior occur in the normal frequency range of swimming. In contrast, more dorsal secondaries chatter in response to current, while the most dorsally distributed ‘primary’ motoneurons all fire tonically. We find that systematic variations in excitability and endogenous rhythmicity are inversely related to the level of oscillatory synaptic drive within the entire axial motor pool. Specifically, bursting cells exhibit the least amount of drive while tonic cells exhibit the most. Our data suggest that increases in swimming frequency are accomplished by the recruitment of axial motoneurons that progressively rely on instructive synaptic drive to shape their oscillatory activity appropriately. Thus, within the zebrafish spinal cord there are differences in the relative contribution of endogenous versus network-based rhythms to locomotion and these vary predictably according to order of recruitment.
PMCID: PMC3428065  PMID: 22875927
8.  Spinal interneuronal networks in the cat; elementary components 
Brain research reviews  2007;57(1):46-55.
This review summarises features of networks of commissural interneurones co-ordinating muscle activity on both sides of the body as an example of feline elementary spinal interneuronal networks. The main feature of these elementary networks is that they are interconnected and incorporated into more complex networks as their building blocks. Links between networks of commissural interneurones and other networks are quite direct, with mono- and disynaptic input from the reticulospinal and vestibulospinal neurones, disynaptic from the contralateral and ipsilateral corticospinal neurones and fastigial neurones, di- or oligosynaptic from the mesencephalic locomotor region and mono-, di- or oligosynaptic from muscle afferents. The most direct links between commissural interneurones and motoneurones are likewise simple: monosynaptic and disynaptic via premotor interneurones with input from muscle afferents. By such connections a particular elementary interneuronal network may subserve a wide range of movements, from simple reflex and postural adjustments to complex centrally initiated phasic and rhythmic movements, including voluntary movements and locomotion. Other common features of the commissural and other interneuronal networks investigated so far is that input from several sources is distributed to their constituent neurones in a semi-random fashion and that there are several possibilities of interactions between neurones both within and between various populations. Neurones of a particular elementary network are located at well defined sites but intermixed with neurones of other networks and distributed over considerable lengths of the spinal cord, which precludes the topography to be used as their distinguishing feature.
PMCID: PMC2683333  PMID: 17884173
Spinal cord; interneuron; commissural neuron; networks
9.  Firing and Cellular Properties of V2a Interneurons in the Rodent Spinal Cord 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2010;30(1):24-37.
Previous studies have shown that a group of ventrally located neurons, designated V2a interneurons, play a key role in maintaining locomotor rhythmicity and in ensuring appropriate left–right alternation during locomotion (Crone et al., 2008, 2009). These V2a interneurons express the transcription factor Chx10. The aim of the present study was to characterize the locomotor-related activity of individual V2a interneurons, their cellular properties, and their detailed anatomical attributes in Chx10-GFP mice. A dorsal horn-removed preparation was developed to allow for visual whole-cell patch recordings from V2a interneurons along the entire lumbar spinal cord while at the same time leaving enough of the spinal cord intact to generate fictive locomotion. During drug-evoked locomotor-like activity, a large proportion of Chx10 cells showed rhythmic firing or membrane potential fluctuations related to either flexor or extensor activity in every lumbar segment. Chx10 cells received predominantly rhythmic excitatory input. Chx10 neurons displayed a wide variety of firing and potential rhythmogenic properties. However, none of these properties was obviously related to the observed rhythmicity during locomotor-like activity. In dual recordings, we found no evidence of Chx10 neuron interconnectivity. Intracellular fills revealed diverse projection patterns with most Chx10 interneurons being local with projections to the central pattern generator and motor neuron regions of the spinal cord and others with long ascending and/or descending branches. These data are compatible with V2a neurons having a role in regulating segmental left–right alternation and ipsilateral motor neuron firing with little effect on rhythm generation.
PMCID: PMC3842458  PMID: 20053884
10.  Properties of a distinct subpopulation of GABAergic commissural interneurons that are part of the locomotor circuitry in the neonatal spinal cord 
Commissural inhibitory interneurons (INs) are integral components of the locomotor circuitry that coordinate left-right motor activity during movements. We have shown that GABA-mediated synaptic transmission plays a key role in generating alternating locomotor-like activity in the mouse spinal cord (Hinckley et al., 2005a). The primary objective of our study was to determine whether properties of lamina VIII (LVIII) GABAergic INs in the spinal cord of GAD67::GFP transgenic mice fit the classification of rhythm-coordinating neurons in the locomotor circuitry. The relatively large GFP+ INs had comparable morphological and electrophysiological properties, suggesting that they comprised a homogenous neuronal population. They displayed multipolar and complex dendritic arbors in ipsilateral LVII-LVIII and their axonal projections crossed the ventral commissure and branched into contralateral ventral, medial and dorsal laminae. Putative synaptic contacts evident as bouton-like varicosities were detected in close apposition to lateral motoneurons, Renshaw cells, other GFP+ INs and unidentified neurons. Exposure to a rhythmogenic cocktail triggered locomotor-like rhythmic firing in the majority of LVIII GFP+ INs. Their induced oscillatory activity was out of phase with bursts of contralateral motoneurons and in phase with bouts of ipsilateral motor activity. Membrane voltage oscillations were elicited by rhythmic increases in excitatory synaptic drive and might have been augmented by three types of voltage-activated cationic currents known to increase neuronal excitability. Based on their axonal projections and activity pattern we propose that this population of GABAergic INs forms a class of local commissural inhibitory interneurons that are integral component of the locomotor circuitry.
PMCID: PMC3086198  PMID: 21451020
commissural inhibitory interneurons; locomotor-related interneurons; locomotor circuitry; ventral GABAergic interneurons; GAD67::GFP mouse line; spinal cord
11.  A glycine receptor is involved in the organization of swimming movements in an invertebrate chordate 
BMC Neuroscience  2010;11:6.
Rhythmic motor patterns for locomotion in vertebrates are generated in spinal cord neural networks known as spinal Central Pattern Generators (CPGs). A key element in pattern generation is the role of glycinergic synaptic transmission by interneurons that cross the cord midline and inhibit contralaterally-located excitatory neurons. The glycinergic inhibitory drive permits alternating and precisely timed motor output during locomotion such as walking or swimming. To understand better the evolution of this system we examined the physiology of the neural network controlling swimming in an invertebrate chordate relative of vertebrates, the ascidian larva Ciona intestinalis.
A reduced preparation of the larva consisting of nerve cord and motor ganglion generates alternating swimming movements. Pharmacological and genetic manipulation of glycine receptors shows that they are implicated in the control of these locomotory movements. Morphological molecular techniques and heterologous expression experiments revealed that glycine receptors are inhibitory and are present on both motoneurones and locomotory muscle while putative glycinergic interneurons were identified in the nerve cord by labeling with an anti-glycine antibody.
In Ciona intestinalis, glycine receptors, glycinergic transmission and putative glycinergic interneurons, have a key role in coordinating swimming movements through a simple CPG that is present in the motor ganglion and nerve cord. Thus, the strong association between glycine receptors and vertebrate locomotory networks may now be extended to include the phylum chordata. The results suggest that the basic network for 'spinal-like' locomotion is likely to have existed in the common ancestor of extant chordates some 650 M years ago.
PMCID: PMC2822779  PMID: 20085645
12.  Spinal Commissural Connections to Motoneurons Controlling the Primate Hand and Wrist 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2013;33(23):9614-9625.
Left–right coordination is essential for locomotor movements and is partly mediated by spinal commissural systems. Such coordination is also essential for reaching and manipulation in primates, but the role of spinal commissural systems here has not been studied. We investigated commissural connectivity to motoneurons innervating forelimb muscles using intracellular recordings in acutely anesthetized macaque monkeys. In 57 of 81 motoneurons, synaptic responses (52 of 57 excitatory) were evoked after contralateral intraspinal microstimulation in the gray matter (cISMS; 300 μA maximum current intensity). Some responses (15 of 57) occurred at latencies compatible with a monosynaptic linkage, including in motoneurons projecting to intrinsic hand muscles (9 cells). Three pieces of evidence suggest that these effects reflected the action of commissural interneurons. In two cells, preceding cISMS with stimulation of the contralateral medial brainstem descending pathways facilitated the motoneuron responses, suggesting that cISMS acted on cell bodies whose excitability was increased by descending inputs. Pairing cISMS with stimulation of the contralateral corticospinal tract yielded no evidence of response occlusion in 16 cells tested, suggesting that the effects were not merely axon reflexes generated by stimulation of corticospinal axon branches, which cross the midline. Finally, stimulation of contralateral peripheral nerves evoked responses in 28 of 52 motoneurons (7 of 9 projecting to the hand). Our results demonstrate the existence of commissural neurons with access to spinal motoneurons in primate cervical spinal cord that receive inputs from the periphery as well as descending pathways. Most importantly, commissural neurons also innervate motoneurons of intrinsic hand muscles.
PMCID: PMC3951829  PMID: 23739958
13.  Synaptic polarity of the interneuron circuit controlling C. elegans locomotion 
Caenorhabditis elegans is the only animal for which a detailed neural connectivity diagram has been constructed. However, synaptic polarities in this diagram, and thus, circuit functions are largely unknown. Here, we deciphered the likely polarities of seven pre-motor neurons implicated in the control of worm's locomotion, using a combination of experimental and computational tools. We performed single and multiple laser ablations in the locomotor interneuron circuit and recorded times the worms spent in forward and backward locomotion. We constructed a theoretical model of the locomotor circuit and searched its all possible synaptic polarity combinations and sensory input patterns in order to find the best match to the timing data. The optimal solution is when either all or most of the interneurons are inhibitory and forward interneurons receive the strongest input, which suggests that inhibition governs the dynamics of the locomotor interneuron circuit. From the five pre-motor interneurons, only AVB and AVD are equally likely to be excitatory, i.e., they have probably similar number of inhibitory and excitatory connections to distant targets. The method used here has a general character and thus can be also applied to other neural systems consisting of small functional networks.
PMCID: PMC3788333  PMID: 24106473
C. elegans; locomotory interneurons; synaptic polarity; locomotion; neural circuit modeling; optimization; laser ablations
14.  A cluster of cholinergic pre-motor interneurons modulates mouse locomotor activity 
Neuron  2009;64(5):645-662.
Mammalian motor programs are controlled by networks of spinal interneurons that set the rhythm and intensity of motor neuron firing. Motor neurons have long been known to receive prominent ‘C-bouton’ cholinergic inputs from spinal interneurons, but the source and function of these synaptic inputs have remained obscure. We show here that the transcription factor Pitx2 marks a small cluster of spinal cholinergic interneurons, V0C neurons, that represents the sole source of C-bouton inputs to motor neurons. The activity of these cholinergic interneurons is tightly phase-locked with motor neuron bursting during fictive locomotor activity, suggesting a role in the modulation of motor neuron firing frequency. Genetic inactivation of the output of these neurons impairs a locomotor task-dependent increase in motor neuron firing and muscle activation. Thus V0C interneurons represent a defined class of spinal cholinergic interneurons with an intrinsic neuromodulatory role in the control of locomotor behavior.
PMCID: PMC2891428  PMID: 20005822
cholinergic interneurons; synapses; locomotor activity; neuromodulation
15.  Serotonergic modulation of post-synaptic inhibition and locomotor alternating pattern in the spinal cord 
The central pattern generators (CPGs) for locomotion, located in the lumbar spinal cord, are functional at birth in the rat. Their maturation occurs during the last few days preceding birth, a period during which the first projections from the brainstem start to reach the lumbar enlargement of the spinal cord. Locomotor burst activity in the mature intact spinal cord alternates between flexor and extensor motoneurons through reciprocal inhibition and between left and right sides through commisural inhibitory interneurons. By contrast, all motor bursts are in phase in the fetus. The alternating pattern disappears after neonatal spinal cord transection which suppresses supraspinal influences upon the locomotor networks. This article will review the role of serotonin (5-HT), in particular 5-HT2 receptors, in shaping the alternating pattern. For instance, pharmacological activation of these receptors restores the left-right alternation after injury. Experiments aimed at either reducing the endogenous level of serotonin in the spinal cord or blocking the activation of 5-HT2 receptors. We then describe recent evidence that the action of 5-HT2 receptors is mediated, at least in part, through a modulation of chloride homeostasis. The postsynaptic action of GABA and glycine depends on the intracellular concentration of chloride ions which is regulated by a protein in the plasma membrane, the K+-Cl− cotransporter (KCC2) extruding both K+ and Cl− ions. Absence or reduction of KCC2 expression leads to a depolarizing action of GABA and glycine and a marked reduction in the strength of postsynaptic inhibition. This latter situation is observed early during development and in several pathological conditions, such as after spinal cord injury, thereby causing spasticity and chronic pain. It was recently shown that specific activation of 5-HT2A receptors is able to up-regulate KCC2, restore endogenous inhibition and reduce spasticity.
PMCID: PMC4148025  PMID: 25221477
5-HT2A receptor; 5-HT7 receptor; chloride homeostasis; KCC2 transporter; reciprocal inhibition
16.  Differential effects of brain-derived neurotrophic factor and neurotrophin-3 on hindlimb function in paraplegic rats 
We compared the effect of viral administration of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) or neurotrophin 3 (NT-3) on locomotor recovery in adult rats with complete thoracic (T10) spinal cord transection injuries, in order to determine the effect of chronic neurotrophin expression on spinal plasticity. At the time of injury, BDNF, NT-3 or green fluorescent protein (GFP) (control) was delivered to the lesion via adeno-associated virus (AAV) constructs. AAV–BDNF was significantly more effective than AAV–NT-3 in eliciting locomotion. In fact, AAV–BDNF-treated rats displayed plantar, weight-supported hindlimb stepping on a stationary platform, that is, without the assistance of a moving treadmill and without step training. Rats receiving AAV–NT-3 or AAV–GFP were incapable of hindlimb stepping during this task, despite provision of balance support. AAV–NT-3 treatment did promote the recovery of treadmill-assisted stepping, but this required continuous perineal stimulation. In addition, AAV–BDNF-treated rats were sensitized to noxious heat, whereas AAV–NT-3-treated and AAV–GFP-treated rats were not. Notably, AAV–BDNF-treated rats also developed hindlimb spasticity, detracting from its potential clinical applicability via the current viral delivery method. Intracellular recording from triceps surae motoneurons revealed that AAV–BDNF significantly reduced motoneuron rheobase, suggesting that AAV–BDNF promoted the recovery of over-ground stepping by enhancing neuronal excitability. Elevated nuclear c-Fos expression in interneurons located in the L2 intermediate zone after AAV–BDNF treatment indicated increased activation of interneurons in the vicinity of the locomotor central pattern generator. AAV–NT-3 treatment reduced motoneuron excitability, with little change in c-Fos expression. These results support the potential for BDNF delivery at the lesion site to reorganize locomotor circuits.
PMCID: PMC3509221  PMID: 22211901
c-Fos; locomotion; neurotrophin; plasticity; rheobase; spinal cord injury
17.  Differential Projections of Excitatory and Inhibitory Dorsal Horn Interneurons Relaying Information from Group II Muscle Afferents in the Cat Spinal Cord 
Dorsal horn interneurons with input from group II muscle spindle afferents are components of networks involved in motor control. Thirteen dorsal horn interneurons with monosynaptic group II input were characterized electrophysiologically and labeled intracellularly with Neurobiotin. Their axonal projections were traced, and neurotransmitter content was established by using immunocytochemistry. Two subpopulations were identified: five interneurons had axons that contained vesicular glutamate transporter 2 and hence were glutamatergic and excitatory. Terminals of the remaining eight interneurons were immunoreactive for the glycine transporter 2 or were apposed to gephyrin but did not contain the GABA-synthesizing enzyme glutamic acid decarboxylase and were therefore glycinergic and inhibitory. Excitatory cells were located mainly in the central region of lamina IV and had relatively small somata and restricted dendritic trees. In contrast, inhibitory interneurons were located more ventrally, in lamina V and had relatively larger somata and more extensive dendritic trees. Axonal projections of the two subpopulations differed considerably. Excitatory interneurons predominantly projected ipsilaterally, whereas most inhibitory interneurons projected both ipsilaterally and contralaterally. Three inhibitory axons formed contacts with large cholinergic cells in motor nuclei, thus revealing a novel direct coupling between inhibitory dorsal horn interneurons and motoneurons. The organization of the excitatory interneurons is consistent with current knowledge of reflex pathways to motoneurons, but the existence and connections of the inhibitory subpopulation could not be predicted from previous data. Our results indicate that these latter interneurons exercise widespread inhibitory control over a variety of cell types located on both sides of the spinal cord.
PMCID: PMC1890019  PMID: 16540564
reflex pathway; spinal interneuronal networks; motor control; electrophysiology; intracellular labeling; immunocytochemistry
18.  Spinal cord injury induces serotonin supersensitivity without increasing intrinsic excitability of mouse V2a interneurons 
Denervation induced plastic changes impair locomotor recovery after spinal cord injury (SCI). Spinal motoneurons become hyperexcitable after SCI, but the plastic responses of locomotor network interneurons after SCI have not been studied. Using an adult mouse SCI model, we analyzed the effects of complete spinal cord lesions on the intrinsic electrophysiological properties, excitability and neuromodulatory responses to serotonin (5-HT) in mouse lumbar V2a spinal interneurons, which help regulate left-right alternation during locomotion. Four weeks after SCI, V2a interneurons showed almost no changes in baseline excitability or action potential properties; the only parameter that changed was a reduced input resistance. However, V2a interneurons became 100-1000 fold more sensitive to 5-HT. Immunocytochemical analysis showed that SCI caused a coordinated loss of serotonergic fibers and the 5-HT transporter (SERT). Blocking the SERT with citalopram in intact mice did not increase 5-HT sensitivity to the level seen after SCI. SCI also evoked an increase in 5-HT2C receptor cluster number and intensity, suggesting that several plastic changes cooperate in increasing 5-HT sensitivity. Our results suggest that different components of the spinal neuronal network responsible for coordinating locomotion are differentially affected by SCI, and highlight the importance of understanding these changes when considering therapies targeted at functional recovery.
PMCID: PMC3506248  PMID: 22993431
19.  Some principles of organization of spinal neurons underlying locomotion in zebrafish and their implications 
Recent studies of the spinal motor system of zebrafish, along with work in other species, are leading to some principles that appear to underlie the organization and recruitment of motor networks in cord: (1) broad neuronal classes defined by a set of transcription factors, key morphological features, and transmitter phenotypes arise in an orderly way from different dorso-ventral zones in spinal cord; (2) motor behaviors and both motoneurons and interneurons differentiate in order from gross, often faster, movements and the neurons driving them to progressively slower movements and their underlying neurons; (3) recruitment order of motoneurons and interneurons is based upon time of differentiation; (4) different locomotor speeds involve some shifts in the set of active interneurons. Here we review these principles and some of their implications for other parts of the brain, other vertebrates, and limbed locomotion.
PMCID: PMC3579554  PMID: 20536924
motoneurons; spinal interneurons; transcription factors; locomotion; motor pattern
20.  Activity of Hb9 Interneurons during Fictive Locomotion in Mouse Spinal Cord 
Hb9 interneurons (Hb9 INs) are putative components of the mouse spinal locomotor central pattern generator (CPG) and candidates for the rhythm-generating kernel. Studies in slices and hemisected spinal cords showed that Hb9 INs display TTX-resistant membrane potential oscillations, suggesting a role in rhythm generation. To further investigate the roles of Hb9 INs in the locomotor CPG, we used two-photon calcium imaging in the in vitro isolated whole neonatal mouse spinal cord preparation to record the activity of Hb9 INs, which were subsequently stained for unambiguous genetic identification. We elicited fictive locomotion by transmitter application or by electrically stimulating the caudal tip of the spinal cord. While most Hb9 INs were rhythmically active during fictive locomotion, their activity was sparse and they failed to fire with each cycle of the episode. If Hb9 INs are the principal pacemakers of the CPG in the hemisegment in which they are located, they should direct the firing of motor neurons, with their activity preceding that of their ipsilateral segmental ventral roots. Instead, during each locomotor cycle, onset of Hb9 IN activity lagged behind the onset of the ipsilateral ventral root burst by a mean phase of 0.21 during electrical stimulation and 0.28 during transmitter application. Whole-cell recordings in intact and hemisected spinal cords confirmed the imaging results. Our data suggest that Hb9 INs participate in fictive locomotion, but the delayed onset of activity relative to ipsilateral motoneurons suggests that Hb9 INs are unlikely to be the sole intrasegmental rhythm generating kernel of the CPG.
PMCID: PMC2756057  PMID: 19759307
spinal cord; interneuron; locomotion; central pattern generator; fluorescence microscopy; mice
21.  5-HT2 and 5-HT7 receptor agonists facilitate plantar stepping in chronic spinal rats through actions on different populations of spinal neurons 
There is considerable evidence from research in neonatal and adult rat and mouse preparations to warrant the conclusion that activation of 5-HT2 and 5-HT1A/7 receptors leads to activation of the spinal cord circuitry for locomotion. These receptors are involved in control of locomotor movements, but it is not clear how they are implicated in the responses to 5-HT agonists observed after spinal cord injury. Here we used agonists that are efficient in promoting locomotor recovery in paraplegic rats, 8-hydroxy-2-(di-n-propylamino)-tetralin (8-OHDPAT) (acting on 5-HT1A/7 receptors) and quipazine (acting on 5-HT2 receptors), to examine this issue. Analysis of intra- and interlimb coordination confirmed that the locomotor performance was significantly improved by either drug, but the data revealed marked differences in their mode of action. Interlimb coordination was significantly better after 8-OHDPAT application, and the activity of the extensor soleus muscle was significantly longer during the stance phase of locomotor movements enhanced by quipazine. Our results show that activation of both receptors facilitates locomotion, but their effects are likely exerted on different populations of spinal neurons. Activation of 5-HT2 receptors facilitates the output stage of the locomotor system, in part by directly activating motoneurons, and also through activation of interneurons of the locomotor central pattern generator (CPG). Activation of 5-HT7/1A receptors facilitates the activity of the locomotor CPG, without direct actions on the output components of the locomotor system, including motoneurons. Although our findings show that the combined use of these two drugs results in production of well-coordinated weight supported locomotion with a reduced need for exteroceptive stimulation, they also indicate that there might be some limitations to the utility of combined treatment. Sensory feedback and some intraspinal circuitry recruited by the drugs can conflict with the locomotor activation.
PMCID: PMC4137449  PMID: 25191231
locomotion; recovery; spinal cord; total transection; serotonin
22.  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
23.  Sensory gating of an embryonic zebrafish interneuron during spontaneous motor behaviors 
In all but the simplest monosynaptic reflex arcs, sensory stimuli are encoded by sensory neurons that transmit a signal via sensory interneurons to downstream partners in order to elicit a response. In the embryonic zebrafish (Danio rerio), cutaneous Rohon-Beard (RB) sensory neurons fire in response to mechanical stimuli and excite downstream glutamatergic commissural primary ascending (CoPA) interneurons to produce a flexion response contralateral to the site of stimulus. In the absence of sensory stimuli, zebrafish spinal locomotor circuits are spontaneously active during development due to pacemaker activity resulting in repetitive coiling of the trunk. Self-generated movement must therefore be distinguishable from external stimuli in order to ensure the appropriate activation of touch reflexes. Here, we recorded from CoPAs during spontaneous and evoked fictive motor behaviors in order to examine how responses to self-movement are gated in sensory interneurons. During spontaneous coiling, CoPAs received glycinergic inputs coincident with contralateral flexions that shunted firing for the duration of the coiling event. Shunting inactivation of CoPAs was caused by a slowly deactivating chloride conductance that resulted in lowered membrane resistance and increased action potential threshold. During spontaneous burst swimming, which develops later, CoPAs received glycinergic inputs that arrived in phase with excitation to ipsilateral motoneurons and provided persistent shunting. During a touch stimulus, short latency glutamatergic inputs produced cationic currents through AMPA receptors that drove a single, large amplitude action potential in the CoPA before shunting inhibition began, providing a brief window for the activation of downstream neurons. We compared the properties of CoPAs to those of other spinal neurons and propose that glycinergic signaling onto CoPAs acts as a corollary discharge signal for reflex inhibition during movement.
PMCID: PMC4179717  PMID: 25324729
sensory interneurons; zebrafish; spinal cord; spontaneous behavior; glycine receptors; AMPA receptors; corollary discharge; reflex inhibition
24.  Interneuronal Mechanism for Tinbergen’s Hierarchical Model of Behavioral Choice 
Current Biology  2014;24(17):2018-2024.
Recent studies of behavioral choice support the notion that the decision to carry out one behavior rather than another depends on the reconfiguration of shared interneuronal networks [1]. We investigated another decision-making strategy, derived from the classical ethological literature [2, 3], which proposes that behavioral choice depends on competition between autonomous networks. According to this model, behavioral choice depends on inhibitory interactions between incompatible hierarchically organized behaviors. We provide evidence for this by investigating the interneuronal mechanisms mediating behavioral choice between two autonomous circuits that underlie whole-body withdrawal [4, 5] and feeding [6] in the pond snail Lymnaea. Whole-body withdrawal is a defensive reflex that is initiated by tactile contact with predators. As predicted by the hierarchical model, tactile stimuli that evoke whole-body withdrawal responses also inhibit ongoing feeding in the presence of feeding stimuli. By recording neurons from the feeding and withdrawal networks, we found no direct synaptic connections between the interneuronal and motoneuronal elements that generate the two behaviors. Instead, we discovered that behavioral choice depends on the interaction between two unique types of interneurons with asymmetrical synaptic connectivity that allows withdrawal to override feeding. One type of interneuron, the Pleuro-Buccal (PlB), is an extrinsic modulatory neuron of the feeding network that completely inhibits feeding when excited by touch-induced monosynaptic input from the second type of interneuron, Pedal-Dorsal12 (PeD12). PeD12 plays a critical role in behavioral choice by providing a synaptic pathway joining the two behavioral networks that underlies the competitive dominance of whole-body withdrawal over feeding.
Graphical Abstract
•Behavioral choice between mutually exclusive behaviors is hierarchically organized•Touch-induced whole-body withdrawal inhibits sucrose-driven feeding rhythms•Two interneurons with asymmetrical connectivity allow withdrawal to override feeding•Suppression of feeding is due to the enhancement of tonic inhibition
A current model of behavioral choice depends on the reconfiguration of shared interneuronal networks. Pirger et al. provide evidence for the alternative Tinbergen model, which depends on a hierarchically based competition between autonomous networks. An asymmetrical inhibitory interneuronal pathway allows one behavior to dominate the other.
PMCID: PMC4159561  PMID: 25155505
25.  Same Spinal Interneurons Mediate Reflex Actions of Group Ib and Group II Afferents and Crossed Reticulospinal Actions 
Journal of neurophysiology  2006;95(6):3911-3922.
The aim of the study was to analyze interactions between neuronal networks mediating centrally initiated movements and reflex reactions evoked by peripheral afferents; specifically whether interneurons in pathways from group Ib afferents and from group II muscle afferents mediate actions of reticulospinal neurons on spinal motoneurons by contralaterally located commissural interneurons. To this end reticulospinal tract fibers were stimulated in the contralateral medial longitudinal fascicle (MLF) in chloralose-anesthetized cats in which the ipsilateral half of the spinal cord was transected rostral to the lumbosacral enlargement. In the majority of interneurons mediating reflex actions of group Ib and group II afferents, MLF stimuli evoked either excitatory or inhibitory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs and IPSPs, respectively) or both EPSPs and IPSPs attributable to disynaptic actions by commissural interneurons. In addition, in some interneurons EPSPs were evoked at latencies compatible with monosynaptic actions of crossed axon collaterals of MLF fibers. Intracellular records from motoneurons demonstrated that both excitation and inhibition from group Ib and group II afferents are modulated by contralaterally descending reticulospinal neurons. The results lead to the conclusion that commissural interneurons activated by reticulospinal neurons affect motoneurons not only directly, but also by enhancing or weakening activation of premotor interneurons in pathways from group Ib and group II afferents. The results also show that both excitatory and inhibitory premotor interneurons are affected in this way and that commissural interneurons may assist in the selection of reflex actions of group Ib and group II afferents during centrally initiated movements.
PMCID: PMC1890023  PMID: 16554505

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