• antidromic action potentials;
  • brain stem;
  • mastication;
  • muscle spindle afferents;
  • primary afferent depolarization;
  • trigeminal mesencephalic nucleus


Primary afferent neurons innervating muscle spindles in jaw-closing muscles have cell bodies in the trigeminal mesencephalic nucleus (NVmes) that are electrically coupled and receive synapses. Each stem axon gives rise to a peripheral branch and a descending central branch. It was previously shown that some spikes generated by constant muscle stretch fail to enter the soma during fictive mastication. The present study examines whether the central axon is similarly controlled. These axons were functionally identified in anaesthetized and paralysed rabbits, and tonic afferent firing was elicited by muscle stretch. For the purpose of comparison, responses were recorded extracellularly both from the somatic region and from the central axon in the lateral brainstem. Two types of fictive masticatory movement patterns were induced by repetitive stimulation of the masticatory cortex and monitored from the trigeminal motor nucleus. Field potentials generated by spike-triggered averaging of action potentials from the spindle afferents were employed to determine their postsynaptic effects on jaw-closing motoneurons. Tonic firing of 32% NVmes units was inhibited during the jaw-opening phase, but spike frequency during closing was almost equal to the control rate during both types of fictive mastication. A similar inhibition occurred during opening in 83% of the units recorded along the central branch. However, firing frequency in these was significantly increased during closing in 94%, probably because of the addition of antidromic action potentials generated by presynaptic depolarization of terminals of the central branch. These additional spikes do not reach the soma, but do appear to excite motoneurons. The data also show that the duration and/or frequency of firing during the bursts varied from one pattern of fictive mastication to another. We conclude that the central axons of trigeminal muscle spindle afferents are functionally decoupled from their stem axons during the jaw-closing phase of mastication. During this phase, it appears that antidromic impulses in the central axons provide one of the inputs from the masticatory central pattern generator (CPG) to trigeminal motoneurons.