Spinobulbar Neurons in Lamprey: Cellular Properties and Synaptic Interactions
Journal of Neurophysiology
An in vitro preparation of the nervous system of the lamprey, a lower vertebrate, was used to characterize the properties of spinal neurons with axons projecting to the brain stem [i.e., spinobulbar (SB) neurons)]. To identify SB neurons, extracellular electrodes on each side of the spinal cord near the obex recorded the axonal spikes of neurons impaled with sharp intracellular microelectrodes in the rostral spinal cord. The ascending spinal neurons (n = 144) included those with ipsilateral (iSB) (63/144), contralateral (cSB) (77/144), or bilateral (bSB) (4/144) axonal projections to the brain stem. Intracellular injection of biocytin revealed that the SB neurons had small- to medium-size somata and most had dendrites confined to the ipsilateral side of the cord, although about half of the cSB neurons also had contralateral dendrites. Most SB neurons had multiple axonal branches including descending axons. Electrophysiologically, the SB neurons were similar to other lamprey spinal neurons, firing spikes throughout long depolarizing pulses with some spike-frequency adaptation. Paired intracellular recordings between SB and reticulospinal (RS) neurons revealed that SB neurons made either excitatory or inhibitory synapses on RS neurons and the SB neurons received excitatory input from RS neurons. Mutual excitation and feedback inhibition between pairs of RS and SB neurons were observed. The SB neurons also received excitatory inputs from primary mechanosensory neurons (dorsal cells), and these same SB neurons were rhythmically active during fictive swimming, indicating that SB neurons convey both sensory and locomotor network information to the brain stem.