Differential maturation of motoneurons innervating ankle flexor and extensor muscles in the neonatal rat


: Dr Laurent Vinay, as above.
E-mail: vinay@dpm.cnrs-mrs.fr


The first postnatal week is a critical period for the development of posture in the rat. The use of ankle extensor muscles in postural reactions increases during this period. Changes in excitability of motoneurons are probably an important factor underlying this maturation. The aim of this study was to identify whether variations in the maturation exist between motor pools innervating antagonistic muscles. Intracellular recordings in the in vitro brain stem–spinal cord preparation of neonatal rats (from postnatal day 0–5) were used to examine the developmental changes in excitability of motoneurons innervating the ankle flexors (F-MNs) and the antigravity ankle extensors (E-MNs). No significant difference in resting potential, action potential threshold, input resistance or rheobase was observed at birth. The age-related increase in rheobase was more pronounced for F-MNs than for E-MNs. The development of discharge properties of E-MNs lagged behind that of F-MNs. More F-MNs than E-MNs were able to fire repetitively in response to current injection at birth. F-MNs discharged at a higher frequency than E-MNs at all ages. Differences in the duration of action potential afterhyperpolarization accounted, at least partly, for the differences in discharge frequency between E-MNs and F-MNs at birth, and for the age-related increase in firing rate. These results suggest that E-MNs are more immature at birth than F-MNs and that there is a differential development of motoneurons innervating antagonistic muscles. This may be a critical factor in the development of posture and locomotion.