Aim: The idea that, like somatic motor neurones, sympathetic pre-ganglionic neurones are engaged to fire in a pre-determined recruitment order, was investigated in chloralose-anaesthetized cats.
Method: Ongoing pre-ganglionic spike activity was recorded from fine filaments of otherwise intact thoracic white rami, while post-ganglionic activity was recorded from the whole inferior cardiac nerve (ICN). Spikes of individual pre-ganglionic fibres were extracted from few-fibre recordings by spike shape analysis. Presumed cardiac pre-ganglionic fibres were further selected by the spike-triggered average of ICN activity, which showed a clear peak when triggered by their spikes.
Results: To test whether particular pre-ganglionic neurones were recruited to fire in a set time sequence, the spontaneous spike trains of fibres in the same white ramus were compared by cross correlation. In all 24 cases the cross correlograms showed a central peak (width 163 ± 15 ms), indicating that the two neurones tended to fire together. In 23 of the 24 cases that peak spanned the zero point on the time axis, showing that each neurone could fire either first or second. To test whether pre-ganglionic neurones were recruited in a set order with respect to burst amplitude, the firing of individual pre-ganglionic neurones was compared with the strength of the corresponding post-ganglionic burst discharge, on a heartbeat-by-heartbeat basis. Pre-ganglionic neurone firing was probabilistic: each neurone fired with only a minority of post-ganglionic bursts. Firing probability increased linearly with burst amplitude (30 of 30 cases). The slope of the relation varied between units, but its intercept was always close to the origin (zero pre-ganglionic firing probability at zero post-ganglionic burst size).
Conclusion: The data indicate that, at least under these conditions, sympathetic pre-ganglionic neurones follow no set recruitment sequence in either their firing times or with respect to the strength of the autonomic motor output.