Amplification and Linear Summation of Synaptic Effects on Motoneuron Firing Rate

Jonathan F. Prather
Randall K. Powers
Timothy C. Cope, Wright State University - Main Campus


The aim of this study was to measure the effects of synaptic input on motoneuron firing rate in an unanesthetized cat preparation, where activation of voltage-sensitive dendritic conductances may influence synaptic integration and repetitive firing. In anesthetized cats, the change in firing rate produced by a steady synaptic input is approximately equal to the product of the effective synaptic current measured at the resting potential (I N) and the slope of the linear relation between somatically injected current and motoneuron discharge rate (f-Islope). However, previous studies in the unanesthetized decerebrate cat indicate that firing rate modulation may be strongly influenced by voltage-dependent dendritic conductances. To quantify the effects of these conductances on motoneuron firing behavior, we injected suprathreshold current steps into medial gastrocnemius motoneurons of decerebrate cats and measured the changes in firing rate produced by superimposed excitatory synaptic input. In the same cells, we measuredI N and the f-I slope to determine the predicted change in firing rate (ΔF =I N * f-I slope). In contrast to previous results in anesthetized cats, synaptically induced changes in motoneuron firing rate were greater-than-predicted. This enhanced effect indicates that additional inward current was present during repetitive firing. This additional inward current amplified the effective synaptic currents produced by two different excitatory sources, group Ia muscle spindle afferents and caudal cutaneous sural nerve afferents. There was a trend toward more prevalent amplification of the Ia input (14/16 cells) than the sural input (11/16 cells). However, in those cells where both inputs were amplified (10/16 cells), amplification was similar in magnitude for each source. When these two synaptic inputs were simultaneously activated, their combined effect was generally very close to the linear sum of their amplified individual effects. Linear summation is also observed in medial gastrocnemius motoneurons of anesthetized cats, where amplification is not present. This similarity suggests that amplification does not disturb the processes of synaptic integration. Linear summation of amplified input was evident for the two segmental inputs studied here. If these phenomena also hold for other synaptic sources, then the presence of active dendritic conductances underlying amplification might enable motoneurons to integrate multiple synaptic inputs and drive motoneuron firing rates throughout the entire physiological range in a relatively simple fashion.