• development;
  • imaging;
  • optical recording;
  • spontaneous activity;
  • voltage-sensitive dye


During development, correlated neuronal activity plays an important role in the establishment of the central nervous system (CNS). We have previously reported that a widely propagating correlated neuronal activity, termed the depolarization wave, is evoked by various sensory inputs. A remarkable feature of the depolarization wave is that it spreads broadly through the brain and spinal cord. In the present study, we examined whether the depolarization wave occurs spontaneously in the embryonic rat CNS and, if so, where it originates. In E15–16 rat embryos, spontaneous optically-revealed signals appeared in association with the rhythmic discharges of cranial motoneurons and propagated widely with similar characteristics to the evoked depolarization wave. At E15, the spontaneous wave mostly originated in the cervical to upper lumbar cords. At E16, the wave was predominantly generated in the lumbosacral cord although a wave associated with the second oscillatory burst was initiated in the rostral cord. At E16, a few waves also originated in the rostral ventrolateral medulla and the dorsomedial pons. When the influence of the caudal cord was removed by transecting the spinal cord, the contribution of the medulla and pons became more significant. These results show that the depolarization wave can be triggered by the spontaneous activity of multiple neuronal populations which are distributed widely from the pons to the lumbosacral cord, although the spinal cord usually plays a predominant role. This network possibly works as a self-distributing system that maintains the incidence and complicated patterns of the correlated activity in the developing CNS.