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Characterization of calcium currents in functionally mature mouse spinal motoneurons


: Dr R. M. Brownstone, as above.


Motoneurons integrate synaptic input and produce output in the form of trains of action potentials such that appropriate muscle contraction occurs. Motoneuronal calcium currents play an important role in the production of this repetitive firing. Because these currents change in the postnatal period, it is necessary to study them in animals in which the motor system is ‘functionally mature’, that is, animals that are able to weight-bear and walk. In this study, calcium currents were recorded using whole-cell patch-clamp techniques from large (> 20 μm) ventral horn cells in lumbar spinal cord slices prepared from mature mice. Ninety percent (nine out of 10) of the recorded cells processed for choline acetyltransferase were found to be cholinergic, confirming their identity as motoneurons. A small number of motoneurons were found to have currents with low-voltage-activated (T-type) characteristics. Pharmacological dissection of the high-voltage-activated current demonstrated ω-agatoxin-TK- (P/Q-type), ω-conotoxin GVIA- (N-type), and dihydropyridine- and FPL-64176-sensitive (L-type) components. A cadmium-sensitive component of the current that was insensitive to these chemicals (R-type) was also seen in these cells. These results indicate that the calcium current in lumbar spinal motoneurons from functionally mature mice is mediated by a number of different channel subtypes. The characterization of these calcium channels in mature mammalian motoneurons will allow for the future study of their modulation and their roles during behaviours such as locomotion.