• Ca2+-binding proteins;
  • Ca2+ transients;
  • interneuron;
  • motor networks;
  • organotypic culture


Embryonic spinal neurons maintained in organotypic slice culture are known to mimic certain maturation-dependent signalling changes. With such a model we investigated, in embryonic mouse spinal segments, the age-dependent spatio-temporal control of intracellular Ca2+ signalling generated by neuronal populations in ventral circuits and its relation with electrical activity. We used Ca2+ imaging to monitor areas located within the ventral spinal horn at 1 and 2 weeks of in vitro growth. Primitive patterns of spontaneous neuronal Ca2+ transients (detected at 1 week) were typically synchronous. Remarkably, such transients originated from widespread propagating waves that became organized into large-scale rhythmic bursts. These activities were associated with the generation of synaptically mediated inward currents under whole-cell patch-clamp. Such patterns disappeared during longer culture of spinal segments: at 2 weeks in culture, only a subset of ventral neurons displayed spontaneous, asynchronous and repetitive Ca2+ oscillations dissociated from background synaptic activity. We observed that the emergence of oscillations was a restricted phenomenon arising together with the transformation of ventral network electrophysiological bursting into asynchronous synaptic discharges. This change was accompanied by the appearance of discrete calbindin immunoreactivity against an unchanged background of calretinin-positive cells. It is attractive to assume that periodic oscillations of Ca2+ confer a summative ability to these cells to shape the plasticity of local circuits through different changes (phasic or tonic) in intracellular Ca2+.