Muscle Proprioceptors in Adult Rat: Mechanosensory Signaling and Synapse Distribution in Spinal Cord

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The characteristic signaling and intraspinal projections of muscle proprioceptors best described in the cat are often generalized across mammalian species. However, species- dependent adaptations within this system seem necessary to accommodate asymmetric scaling of length, velocity, and force information required by the physics of movement. In the present study we report mechanosensory responses and intraspinal destinations of three classes of muscle proprioceptors. Proprioceptors from triceps surae muscles in adult female Wistar rats anesthetized with isoflurane were physiologically classified as muscle spindle group Ia or II or as tendon organ group Ib afferents, studied for their firing responses to passivemuscle stretch, and in some cases labeled and imaged for axon projections and varicosities in spinal segments. Afferent projections and the laminar distributions of provisional synapses in rats closely resembled those found in the cat. Afferent signaling of muscle kinematics was also similar to reports in the cat, but rat Ib afferents fired robustly during passive-muscle stretch and Ia afferents displayed an exaggerated dynamic response, even after locomotor scaling was accounted for. These differences in mechanosensory signaling by muscle proprioceptors may represent adaptations for movement control in different animal species. New and Noteworthy Muscle sensory neurons signal information necessary for controlling limb movements. The information encoded and transmitted by muscle proprioceptors to networks in the spinal cord is known in detail only for the cat, but differences in size and behavior of other species challenge the presumed generalizability. This report presents the first findings detailing specializations in mechanosensory signaling and intraspinal targets for functionally identified subtypes of muscle proprioceptors in the rat.