State-dependent hyperpolarization of voltage threshold enhances motoneurone excitability during fictive locomotion in the cat


Corresponding author
L. M. Jordan: Department of Physiology, University of Manitoba, 730 William Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada R3E 3J7.


  • 1Experiments were conducted on decerebrate adult cats to examine the effect of brainstem-evoked fictive locomotion on the threshold voltage (Vth) at which action potentials were initiated in hindlimb motoneurones. Measurements of the voltage threshold of the first spike evoked by intracellular injection of depolarizing ramp currents or square pulses were compared during control and fictive locomotor conditions. The sample of motoneurones included flexor and extensor motoneurones, and motoneurones with low and high rheobase currents.
  • 2In all 38 motoneurones examined, action potentials were initiated at more hyperpolarized membrane potentials during fictive locomotion than in control conditions (mean hyperpolarization -8.0 ± 5.5 mV; range -1.8 to -26.6 mV). Hyperpolarization of Vth occurred immediately at the onset of fictive locomotion and recovered in seconds (typically < 60 s) following the termination of locomotor activity.
  • 3The Vth of spikes occurring spontaneously without intracellular current injection was also reduced during locomotion.
  • 4Superimposition of rhythmic depolarizing current pulses on current ramps in the absence of locomotion did not lower Vth to the extent seen during fictive locomotion. We suggest that Vth hyperpolarization results from an as yet undetermined neuromodulatory process operating during locomotion and is not simply the result of the oscillations in membrane potential occurring during locomotion.The hyperpolarization of Vth for action potential initiation during locomotion is a state-dependent increase in motoneurone excitability. This Vth hyperpolarization may be a fundamental process in the generation of motoneurone activity during locomotion and perhaps other motor tasks.