Analysis of Individual Ia-Afferent EPSPs in a Homonymous Motoneuron Pool with Respect to Muscle Topography

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1. The spike-triggered averaging technique (26) was used to determine whether the synaptic input from medial gastrocnemius (MG) Ia-afferent fibers to homonymous motoneurons is "topographically weighted" (22) by means of differences in projection frequency, excitatory postsynaptic potential (EPSP) amplitude, or a combination of both factors.

2. Motoneurons were classified as either "same branch" or "other branch," depending on whether a Ia-afferent fiber and motor axon were contained in the same or different intramuscular nerve branches. No difference was found in the projection frequency of Ia-afferents to the same branch and other branch motoneurons (95 versus 94%, respectively).

3. The mean EPSP amplitude was larger in the same branch group of motoneurons (92 ± 8 (SE) µV; n - 97) than in the other branch group (77 ± 7 µV; n = 79). This difference was most striking in high-rheobase (greater than or equal to 10 nA) motoneurons, for which the mean EPSP amplitude in the same branch group was 82 ± 12 µV (n = 48), whereas that in the other branch group was 52 ± 5 µV (n = 37).

4. In 60 cases it was possible to compare the EPSPs produced by a same branch afferent and an other branch afferent in the same motoneuron. The same branch afferent produced the larger EPSP in 73% (44/60) of the cases. Moreover, the mean ratio of the same branch to the other branch EPSP amplitudes was 1.7, which was both statistically significant and consistent with analogous results from our preceding study of aggregate EPSPs (22).

5. Mean rise times and half-widths of EPSPs in the same branch group were not significantly different from those in the other branch group. Furthermore, no significant differences in rise times or half-widths between the two groups were evident when motoneurons were segregated according to their rheobase values. This suggests that the segregation of Ia-afferent and motor axons across the intramuscular nerve branches is not reflected in the locations of Ia terminals on the motoneuron somadendritic surface and that other factors must account for observed EPSP amplitude differences.

6. Our data suggest that the topographic weighting of homonymous Ia-afferent input to cat MG motoneurons is mediated by a gradient of EPSP amplitude rather than by a gradient of Ia connectivity and also suggest that the effect is most prominent in high-rheobase motoneurons.