Xenopus embryonic spinal neurons recorded in situ with patch-clamp electrodes – conditional oscillators after all?


: Professor N. Dale, as above.
E-mail: N.E.Dale@warwick.ac.uk


The central pattern generator for swimming Xenopus embryo is organized as two half-centres linked by reciprocal inhibition. Microelectrode recordings suggest that Xenopus neurons are poorly excitable, necessitating a key role for postinhibitory rebound in the operation of the central pattern generator. However the Xenopus central pattern generator seems unusual in that the component neurons apparently have no intrinsic or conditional rhythmogenic properties. We have re-examined the firing properties of Xenopus embryo spinal neurons by making patch-clamp recordings in situ from intact spinal cord. Recordings made from 99 neurons were divided into three groups. Central pattern generator neurons overwhelmingly (44/51) fired trains of action potentials in response to current injection. Just over half of the sensory interneurons (13/22) also fired trains of action potentials. Neurons that received no synaptic inputs during swimming mostly fired just one or two action potentials (22/26). Thirty-four neurons were identified morphologically. Commissural (8/12) and descending (6/6) interneurons, key components of the spinal central pattern generator, fired repetitive trains of action potentials during current injection. Neurons that were not part of the central pattern generator did not demonstrate this preponderance for repetitive firing. Analysis of the interspike intervals during current injection revealed that the majority of central pattern generators, descending and commissural interneurons, could readily fire at frequencies up to twice that of swimming. We suggest that Xenopus neurons can be considered as conditional oscillators: in the presence of unpatterned excitation they exhibit an ability to fire rhythmically. This property makes the Xenopus embryonic central pattern generator more similar to other model central pattern generators than has hitherto been appreciated.