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Serotonin refines the locomotor-related alternations in the in vitro neonatal rat spinal cord


Dr E. Pearlstein, as above.


Serotonergic projections from raphe nuclei arrive in the lumbar enlargement of the spinal cord during the late fetal period in the rat, a time window during which the locomotor-related left/right and flexor/extensor coordinations switch from synchrony to alternation. The goal of the present study was to investigate the role played by serotonin (5-HT) in modulating the left/right and flexor/extensor alternations. Fictive locomotion was induced by bath application of N-methyl-d,l-aspartate (NMA) in the in vitro neonatal rat spinal cord preparation. By means of cross-correlation analysis we demonstrate that 5-HT, when added to NMA, improves left/right and flexor/extensor (recorded from the 3rd and 5th lumbar ventral roots, respectively) alternations. This effect was partly reproduced by activation of 5-HT2A/2C receptors. We then tested the contribution of endogenous 5-HT to NMA-induced fictive locomotion. Reducing the functional importance of endogenous 5-HT, either by inhibiting its synthesis with daily injections of p-chloro-phenylalanine (PCPA), starting on the day of birth, or by application of ketanserin (a 5-HT2 receptor antagonist) or SB269970 (a 5-HT7 receptor antagonist), disorganized the NMA-induced locomotor pattern. This pattern was restored in PCPA-treated animals by adding 5-HT to the bath. Blocking 5-HT7 receptors disorganized the locomotor-like rhythm even in the absence of electrical activity in the brain stem, suggesting that NMA applied to the spinal cord does not cause 5-HT release by activating a spino-raphe–spinal loop. These results demonstrate that 5-HT is critical in improving the locomotor-related alternations in the neonatal rat.