A Comparison of the Inhibition of Renshaw Cells during Subthreshold and Suprathreshold Conditions Using Anatomically and Physiologically Realistic Models

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Inhibitory synaptic inputs to Renshaw cells are concentrated on the soma and the juxtasomatic dendrites. In the present study, we investigated whether this proximal bias leads to more effective inhibition under different neuronal operating conditions. Using compartmental models based on detailed anatomical measurements of intracellularly stained Renshaw cells, we compared the inhibition produced by glycine/γ-aminobutyric acid-A (GABAA) synapses when distributed with a proximal bias to the inhibition produced when the same synapses were distributed uniformly (i.e., with no regional bias). The comparison was conducted in subthreshold and suprathreshold conditions. The latter were mimicked by voltage clamping the soma to −55 mV. The voltage clamp reduces nonlinear interactions between excitatory and inhibitory synapses. We hypothesized that for electrotonically compact cells such as Renshaw cells, the strength of the inhibition would become much less dependent on synaptic location in suprathreshold conditions. This hypothesis was not confirmed. The inhibition produced when inhibitory inputs were proximally distributed was always stronger than when the same inputs were uniformly distributed. In fact, the relative effectiveness of proximally distributed inhibitory inputs over uniformly distributed synapses was greater in suprathreshold conditions than that in subthreshold conditions. The somatic voltage clamp minimized saturation of inhibitory driving potentials. Because this effect was greatest near the soma, the current produced by more distal synapses suffered a greater loss because of saturation. Conversely, in subthreshold conditions, the effectiveness of proximal synapses was substantially reduced at high levels of background synaptic activity because of saturation. Our results suggest glycine/GABAA synapses on Renshaw cells are strategically distributed to block the powerful excitatory drive produced by recurrent collaterals from motoneurons.