The generation of rhythmic activity in dissociated cultures of rat spinal cord


: Dr Jürg Streit, as above.


Locomotion in vertebrates is controlled by central pattern generators in the spinal cord. The roles of specific network architecture and neuronal properties in rhythm generation by such spinal networks are not fully understood. We have used multisite recording from dissociated cultures of embryonic rat spinal cord grown on multielectrode arrays to investigate the patterns of spontaneous activity in randomised spinal networks. We were able to induce similar patterns of rhythmic activity in dissociated cultures as in slice cultures, although not with the same reliability and not always with the same protocols. The most reliable rhythmic activity was induced when a partial disinhibition of the network was combined with an increase in neuronal excitability, suggesting that both recurrent synaptic excitation and neuronal excitability contribute to rhythmogenesis. During rhythmic activity, bursts started at several sites and propagated in variable ways. However, the predominant propagation patterns were independent of the protocol used to induce rhythmic activity. When synaptic transmission was blocked by CNQX, APV, strychnine and bicuculline, asynchronous low-rate activity persisted at ≈ 50% of the electrodes and ≈ 70% of the sites of burst initiation. Following the bursts, the activity in the interval was transiently suppressed below the level of intrinsic activity. The degree of suppression was proportional to the amount of activity in the preceding burst. From these findings we conclude that rhythmic activity in spinal cultures is controlled by the interplay of intrinsic neuronal activity and recurrent excitation in neuronal networks without the need for a specific architecture.