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Keywords:

  • membrane properties;
  • motoneurons;
  • rhythmical jaw movements

Abstract

In this study we have characterized the membrane properties and morphology of interneurons which lie between the caudal pole of the trigeminal motor nucleus and the rostral border of the facial motor nucleus. Previous studies suggest that many of these interneurons may participate in the genesis of rhythmical jaw movements. Saggital brainstem slices were taken from rats aged 5–8 days. Interneurons lying caudal to the trigeminal motor nucleus were visualized using near-infrared differential interference contrast (DIC) microscopy, and were recorded from using patch pipettes filled with a K-gluconate- and biocytin-based solution. The 127 neurons recorded could be categorized into three subtypes on the basis of their responses to injection of depolarizing current pulses, namely tonic firing (type I), burst firing (type II) and spike-adaptive (type III) neurons. Type I interneurons had a higher input resistance and a lower rheobase than type II neurons. All three neuron subtypes showed ‘sag’ of the voltage response to injection of large-amplitude hyperpolarizing current pulses, and, in addition, also showed rectification of the voltage response to injection of depolarizing current pulses, with type II neurons showing significantly greater rectification than type I neurons. The axonal arborizations were reconstructed for 44 of 63 neurons labelled with tracer. Neurons of each subtype were found to issue axon collaterals terminating in the brainstem nuclei, including the parvocellular reticular nucleus (PCRt), the trigeminal motor nucleus (Vmot), the supratrigeminal nucleus or the trigeminal mesencephalic nucleus. Twenty-five of the 43 neurons issued collaterals which terminated in the Vmot and the other brainstem nuclei. When viewed under 100× magnification, the collaterals of some interneurons were seen to give off varicosities and end-terminations which passed close to the somata of unidentified neurons in the trigeminal motor nucleus and in the area close to the interneuron soma itself. This suggests that the interneurons may make synaptic contacts both on motoneurons and also on nearby interneurons. These results provide data on the membrane properties of trigeminal interneurons and evidence for their synaptic connections both with nearby interneurons and also with motoneurons. Thus, the interneurons examined could play roles in the shaping, and possibly also in the generation, of rhythmical signals to trigeminal motoneurons.