NMDA Induces Persistent Inward and Outward Currents that Cause Rhythmic Bursting in Adult Rodent Motoneurons

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N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors are of critical importance for locomotion in the developing neonatal spinal cord in rats and mice. However, due to profound changes in the expression of NMDA receptors in development between the neonatal stages and adulthood, it is unclear whether NMDA receptors are still an important component of locomotion in the adult rodent spinal cord. To shed light on this issue, we have taken advantage of recently developed preparations allowing the intracellular recording of adult motoneurons that control the tail in the sacrocaudal spinal cord of adult mice and rats. We show that in the adult sacrocaudal spinal cord, NMDA induces rhythmic activity recorded on the ventral roots, often coordinated from left to right, as in swimming motions with the tail (fictive locomotion). The adult motoneurons themselves are intrinsically sensitive to NMDA application. That is, when motoneurons are synaptically isolated with TTX, NMDA still causes spontaneous bursts of rhythmic activity, depending on the membrane potential. We show that these bursts in motoneurons depend on an NMDA-mediated persistent inward current and are terminated by the progressive activation of a persistent outward current. These results indicate that motoneurons, along with the central pattern generator, can actively participate in the production of swimminglike locomotor activity in adult rodents.


Copyright © 2012 the American Physiological Society.