Journal of Physiology

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Ouabain-digoxin antagonism in rat arteries and neurones

01 March 2014

‘Classic’ cardiotonic steroids (CTSs) such as digoxin and ouabain selectively inhibit Na+,K+-ATPase (the Na+ pump) and, via Na+/Ca2+ exchange (NCX), exert cardiotonic and vasotonic effects. CTS action is more complex than previously thought: prolonged subcutaneous administration of ouabain, but not digoxin, induces hypertension, and digoxin antagonizes ouabain's hypertensinogenic effect. We studied the acute interactions between CTSs in two indirect assays of Na+ pump function: myogenic tone (MT) in isolated, pressurized rat mesenteric small arteries, and Ca2+ signalling in primary cultured rat hippocampal neurones. The ‘classic’ CTSs (0.3–10 nm) behaved as ‘agonists’: all increased MT70 (MT at 70 mmHg) and augmented glutamate-evoked Ca2+ (Fura-2) signals. We then tested one CTS in the presence of another. Most CTSs could be divided into ouabain-like (ouabagenin, dihydroouabain (DHO), strophanthidin) or digoxin-like CTS (digoxigenin, digitoxin, bufalin). Within each group, the CTSs were synergistic, but ouabain-like and digoxin-like CTSs antagonized one another in both assays: For example, the ouabain-evoked (3 nm) increases in MT70 and neuronal Ca2+ signals were both greatly attenuated by the addition of 10 nm digoxin or 10 nm bufalin, and vice versa. Rostafuroxin (PST2238), a digoxigenin derivative that displaces 3H-ouabain from Na+,K+-ATPase, and attenuates some forms of hypertension, antagonized the effects of ouabain, but not digoxin. SEA0400, a Na+/Ca2+ exchanger (NCX) blocker, antagonized the effects of both ouabain and digoxin. CTSs bind to the α subunit of pump αβ protomers. Analysis of potential models suggests that, in vivo, Na+ pumps function as tetraprotomers ((αβ)4) in which the binding of a single CTS to one protomer blocks all pumping activity. The paradoxical ability of digoxin-like CTSs to reactivate the ouabain-inhibited complex can be explained by de-oligomerization of the tetrameric state. The interactions between these common CTSs may be of considerable therapeutic relevance.

Intracellular signalling mechanism responsible for modulation of sarcolemmal ATP-sensitive potassium channels by nitric oxide in ventricular cardiomyocytes

01 March 2014

The ATP-sensitive potassium (KATP) channels are crucial for stress adaptation in the heart. It has previously been suggested that the function of KATP channels is modulated by nitric oxide (NO), a gaseous messenger known to be cytoprotective; however, the underlying mechanism remains poorly understood. Here we sought to delineate the intracellular signalling mechanism responsible for NO modulation of sarcolemmal KATP (sarcKATP) channels in ventricular cardiomyocytes. Cell-attached patch recordings were performed in transfected human embryonic kidney (HEK) 293 cells and ventricular cardiomyocytes freshly isolated from adult rabbits or genetically modified mice, in combination with pharmacological and biochemical approaches. Bath application of the NO donor NOC-18 increased the single-channel activity of Kir6.2/SUR2A (i.e. the principal ventricular-type KATP) channels in HEK293 cells, whereas the increase was abated by KT5823 [a selective cGMP-dependent protein kinase (PKG) inhibitor], mercaptopropionyl glycine [MPG; a reactive oxygen species (ROS) scavenger], catalase (an H2O2-degrading enzyme), myristoylated autocamtide-2 related inhibitory peptide (mAIP) selective for Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CaMKII) and U0126 [an extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2) inhibitor], respectively. The NO donors NOC-18 and N-(2-deoxy-α,β-d-glucopyranose-2-)-N2-acetyl-S-nitroso-d,l-penicillaminamide (glycol-SNAP-2) were also capable of stimulating native sarcKATP channels preactivated by the channel opener pinacidil in rabbit ventricular myocytes, through reducing the occurrence and the dwelling time of the long closed states whilst increasing the frequency of channel opening; in contrast, all these changes were reversed in the presence of inhibitors selective for soluble guanylyl cyclase (sGC), PKG, calmodulin, CaMKII or ERK1/2. Mimicking the action of NO donors, exogenous H2O2 potentiated pinacidil-preactivated sarcKATP channel activity in intact cardiomyocytes, but the H2O2-induced KATP channel stimulation was obliterated when ERK1/2 or CaMKII activity was suppressed, implying that H2O2 is positioned upstream of ERK1/2 and CaMKII for KATP channel modulation. Furthermore, genetic ablation (i.e. knockout) of CaMKII, the predominant cardiac CaMKII isoform, diminished ventricular sarcKATP channel stimulation elicited by activation of PKG, unveiling CaMKII as a crucial player. Additionally, evidence from kinase activity and Western blot analyses revealed that activation of NO–PKG signalling augmented CaMKII activity in rabbit ventricular myocytes and, importantly, CaMKII activation by PKG occurred in an ERK1/2-dependent manner, placing ERK1/2 upstream of CaMKII. Taken together, these findings suggest that NO modulates ventricular sarcKATP channels via a novel sGC–cGMP–PKG–ROS(H2O2)–ERK1/2–calmodulin–CaMKII ( isoform in particular) signalling cascade, which heightens KATP channel activity by destabilizing the long closed states while facilitating closed-to-open state transitions. This pathway may contribute to regulation of cardiac excitability and cytoprotection against ischaemia–reperfusion injury, in part, by opening myocardial sarcKATP channels.

Facilitation by intracellular carbonic anhydrase of Na+-HCO3- co-transport but not Na+/H+ exchange activity in the mammalian ventricular myocyte

01 March 2014

Carbonic anhydrase enzymes (CAs) catalyse the reversible hydration of CO2 to H+ and HCO3– ions. This catalysis is proposed to be harnessed by acid/base transporters, to facilitate their transmembrane flux activity, either through direct protein–protein binding (a ‘transport metabolon’) or local functional interaction. Flux facilitation has previously been investigated by heterologous co-expression of relevant proteins in host cell lines/oocytes. Here, we examine the influence of intrinsic CA activity on membrane HCO3– or H+ transport via the native acid-extruding proteins, Na+–HCO3– cotransport (NBC) and Na+/H+ exchange (NHE), expressed in enzymically isolated mammalian ventricular myocytes. Effects of intracellular and extracellular (exofacial) CA (CAi and CAe) are distinguished using membrane-permeant and -impermeant pharmacological CA inhibitors, while measuring transporter activity in the intact cell using pH and Na+ fluorophores. We find that NBC, but not NHE flux is enhanced by catalytic CA activity, with facilitation being confined to CAi activity alone. Results are quantitatively consistent with a model where CAi catalyses local H+ ion delivery to the NBC protein, assisting the subsequent (uncatalysed) protonation and removal of imported HCO3– ions. In well-superfused myocytes, exofacial CA activity is superfluous, most likely because extracellular CO2/HCO3– buffer is clamped at equilibrium. The CAi insensitivity of NHE flux suggests that, in the native cell, intrinsic mobile buffer-shuttles supply sufficient intracellular H+ ions to this transporter, while intrinsic buffer access to NBC proteins is restricted. Our results demonstrate a selective CA facilitation of acid/base transporters in the ventricular myocyte, implying a specific role for the intracellular enzyme in HCO3– transport, and hence pHi regulation in the heart.

Subunit-specific inhibition of acid sensing ion channels by stomatin-like protein 1

15 February 2014

There are five mammalian stomatin-domain genes, all of which encode peripheral membrane proteins that can modulate ion channel function. Here we examined the ability of stomatin-like protein 1 (STOML1) to modulate the proton-sensitive members of the acid-sensing ion channel (ASIC) family. STOML1 profoundly inhibits ASIC1a, but has no effect on the splice variant ASIC1b. The inactivation time constant of ASIC3 is also accelerated by STOML1. We examined STOML1 null mutant mice with a β-galactosidase-neomycin cassette gene-trap reporter driven from the STOML1 gene locus, which indicated that STOML1 is expressed in at least 50% of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurones. Patch clamp recordings from mouse DRG neurones identified a trend for larger proton-gated currents in neurones lacking STOML1, which was due to a contribution of effects upon both transient and sustained currents, at different pH, a finding consistent with an endogenous inhibitory function for STOML1.

A catalytic independent function of the deubiquitinating enzyme USP14 regulates hippocampal synaptic short-term plasticity and vesicle number

15 February 2014

The ubiquitin proteasome system is required for the rapid and precise control of protein abundance that is essential for synaptic function. USP14 is a proteasome-bound deubiquitinating enzyme that recycles ubiquitin and regulates synaptic short-term synaptic plasticity. We previously reported that loss of USP14 in axJ mice causes a deficit in paired pulse facilitation (PPF) at hippocampal synapses. Here we report that USP14 regulates synaptic function through a novel, deubiquitination-independent mechanism. Although PPF is usually inversely related to release probability, USP14 deficiency impairs PPF without altering basal release probability. Instead, the loss of USP14 causes a large reduction in the number of synaptic vesicles. Over-expression of a catalytically inactive form of USP14 rescues the PPF deficit and restores synaptic vesicle number, indicating that USP14 regulates presynaptic structure and function independently of its role in deubiquitination. Finally, the PPF deficit caused by loss of USP14 can be rescued by pharmacological inhibition of proteasome activity, suggesting that inappropriate protein degradation underlies the PPF impairment. Overall, we demonstrate a novel, deubiquitination-independent function for USP14 in influencing synaptic architecture and plasticity.

Daily variation in the electrophysiological activity of mouse medial habenula neurones

15 February 2014

Intrinsic daily or circadian rhythms arise through the outputs of the master circadian clock in the brain's suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) as well as circadian oscillators in other brain sites and peripheral tissues. SCN neurones contain an intracellular molecular clock that drives these neurones to exhibit pronounced day–night differences in their electrical properties. The epithalamic medial habenula (MHb) expresses clock genes, but little is known about the bioelectric properties of mouse MHb neurones and their potential circadian characteristics. Therefore, in this study we used a brain slice preparation containing the MHb to determine the basic electrical properties of mouse MHb neurones with whole-cell patch clamp electrophysiology, and investigated whether these vary across the day–night cycle. MHb neurones (n = 230) showed heterogeneity in electrophysiological state, ranging from highly depolarised cells (~ –25 to –30 mV) that are silent with no membrane activity or display depolarised low-amplitude membrane oscillations, to neurones that were moderately hyperpolarised (~40 mV) and spontaneously discharging action potentials. These electrical states were largely intrinsically regulated and were influenced by the activation of small-conductance calcium-activated potassium channels. When considered as one population, MHb neurones showed significant circadian variation in their spontaneous firing rate and resting membrane potential. However, in recordings of MHb neurones from mice lacking the core molecular circadian clock, these temporal differences in MHb activity were absent, indicating that circadian clock signals actively regulate the timing of MHb neuronal states. These observations add to the extracellularly recorded rhythms seen in other brain areas and establish that circadian mechanisms can influence the membrane properties of neurones in extra-SCN sites. Collectively, the results of this study indicate that the MHb may function as an intrinsic secondary circadian oscillator in the brain, which can shape daily information flow in key brain processes, such as reward and addiction.

Transition between fast and slow gamma modes in rat hippocampus area CA1 in vitro is modulated by slow CA3 gamma oscillations

15 February 2014

Hippocampal gamma oscillations have been associated with cognitive functions including navigation and memory encoding/retrieval. Gamma oscillations in area CA1 are thought to depend on the oscillatory drive from CA3 (slow gamma) or the entorhinal cortex (fast gamma). Here we show that the local CA1 network can generate its own fast gamma that can be suppressed by slow gamma-paced inputs from CA3. Moderate acetylcholine receptor activation induces fast (45 ± 1 Hz) gamma in rat CA1 minislices and slow (33 ± 1 Hz) gamma in CA3 minislices in vitro. Using pharmacological tools, current-source density analysis and intracellular recordings from pyramidal cells and fast-spiking stratum pyramidale interneurons, we demonstrate that fast gamma in CA1 is of the pyramidal–interneuron network gamma (PING) type, with the firing of principal cells paced by recurrent perisomal IPSCs. The oscillation frequency was only weakly dependent on IPSC amplitude, and decreased to that of CA3 slow gamma by reducing IPSC decay rate or reducing interneuron activation through tonic inhibition of interneurons. Fast gamma in CA1 was replaced by slow CA3-driven gamma in unlesioned slices, which could be mimicked in CA1 minislices by sub-threshold 35 Hz Schaffer collateral stimulation that activated fast-spiking interneurons but hyperpolarised pyramidal cells, suggesting that slow gamma frequency CA3 outputs can suppress the CA1 fast gamma-generating network by feed-forward inhibition and replaces it with a slower gamma oscillation driven by feed-forward inhibition. The transition between the two gamma oscillation modes in CA1 might allow it to alternate between effective communication with the medial entorhinal cortex and CA3, which have different roles in encoding and recall of memory.

Cholesterol and F-actin are required for clustering of recycling synaptic vesicle proteins in the presynaptic plasma membrane

15 February 2014

Synaptic vesicles (SVs) and their proteins must be recycled for sustained synaptic transmission. We tested the hypothesis that SV cholesterol is required for proper sorting of SV proteins during recycling in live presynaptic terminals. We used the reversible block of endocytosis in the Drosophila temperature-sensitive dynamin mutant shibire-ts1 to trap exocytosed SV proteins, and then examined the effect of experimental treatments on the distribution of these proteins within the presynaptic plasma membrane by confocal microscopy. SV proteins synaptotagmin, vglut and csp were clustered following SV trapping in control experiments but dispersed in samples treated with the cholesterol chelator methyl-β-cyclodextrin to extract SV cholesterol. There was accumulation of phosphatidylinositol (4,5)-bisphosphate (PIP2) in presynaptic terminals following SV trapping and this was reduced following SV cholesterol extraction. Reduced PIP2 accumulation was associated with disrupted accumulation of actin in presynaptic terminals. Similar to vesicular cholesterol extraction, disruption of actin by latrunculin A after SV proteins had been trapped on the plasma membrane resulted in the dispersal of SV proteins and prevented recovery of synaptic transmission due to impaired endocytosis following relief of the endocytic block. Our results demonstrate that vesicular cholesterol is required for aggregation of exocytosed SV proteins in the presynaptic plasma membrane and are consistent with a mechanism involving regulation of PIP2 accumulation and local actin polymerization by cholesterol. Thus, alteration of membrane or SV lipids may affect the ability of synapses to undergo sustained synaptic transmission by compromising the recycling of SV proteins.

Synaptic noise is an information bottleneck in the inner retina during dynamic visual stimulation

15 February 2014

In daylight, noise generated by cones determines the fidelity with which visual signals are initially encoded. Subsequent stages of visual processing require synapses from bipolar cells to ganglion cells, but whether these synapses generate a significant amount of noise was unknown. To characterize noise generated by these synapses, we recorded excitatory postsynaptic currents from mammalian retinal ganglion cells and subjected them to a computational noise analysis. The release of transmitter quanta at bipolar cell synapses contributed substantially to the noise variance found in the ganglion cell, causing a significant loss of fidelity from bipolar cell array to postsynaptic ganglion cell. Virtually all the remaining noise variance originated in the presynaptic circuit. Circuit noise had a frequency content similar to noise shared by ganglion cells but a very different frequency content from noise from bipolar cell synapses, indicating that these synapses constitute a source of independent noise not shared by ganglion cells. These findings contribute a picture of daylight retinal circuits where noise from cones and noise generated by synaptic transmission of cone signals significantly limit visual fidelity.

Activity-dependent regulation of NMDA receptors in substantia nigra dopaminergic neurones

15 February 2014

N-Methyl-d-aspartate receptors (NMDARs) are Ca2+-permeable glutamate receptors that play a critical role in synaptic plasticity and promoting cell survival. However, overactive NMDARs can trigger cell death signalling pathways and have been implicated in substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc) pathology in Parkinson's disease. Calcium ion influx through NMDARs recruits Ca2+-dependent proteins that can regulate NMDAR activity. The surface density of NMDARs can also be regulated dynamically in response to receptor activity via Ca2+-independent mechanisms. We have investigated the activity-dependent regulation of NMDARs in SNc dopaminergic neurones. Repeated whole-cell agonist applications resulted in a decline in the amplitude of NMDAR currents (current run-down) that was use dependent and not readily reversible. Run-down was reduced by increasing intracellular Ca2+ buffering or by reducing Ca2+ influx but did not appear to be mediated by the same regulatory proteins that cause Ca2+-dependent run-down in hippocampal neurones. The NMDAR current run-down may be mediated in part by a Ca2+-independent mechanism, because intracellular dialysis with a dynamin-inhibitory peptide reduced run-down, suggesting a role for clathrin-mediated endocytosis in the regulation of the surface density of receptors. Synaptic NMDARs were also subject to current run-down during repeated low-frequency synaptic stimulation in a Ca2+-dependent but dynamin-independent manner. Thus, we report, for the first time, regulation of NMDARs in SNc dopaminergic neurones by changes in intracellular Ca2+ at both synaptic and extrasynaptic sites and provide evidence for activity-dependent changes in receptor trafficking. These mechanisms may contribute to intracellular Ca2+ homeostasis in dopaminergic neurones by limiting Ca2+ influx through the NMDAR.

Complementary functions of SK and Kv7/M potassium channels in excitability control and synaptic integration in rat hippocampal dentate granule cells

15 February 2014

The dentate granule cells (DGCs) form the most numerous neuron population of the hippocampal memory system, and its gateway for cortical input. Yet, we have only limited knowledge of the intrinsic membrane properties that shape their responses. Since SK and Kv7/M potassium channels are key mechanisms of neuronal spiking and excitability control, afterhyperpolarizations (AHPs) and synaptic integration, we studied their functions in DGCs. The specific SK channel blockers apamin or scyllatoxin increased spike frequency (excitability), reduced early spike frequency adaptation, fully blocked the medium-duration AHP (mAHP) after a single spike or spike train, and increased postsynaptic EPSP summation after spiking, but had no effect on input resistance (Rinput) or spike threshold. In contrast, blockade of Kv7/M channels by XE991 increased Rinput, lowered the spike threshold, and increased excitability, postsynaptic EPSP summation, and EPSP–spike coupling, but only slightly reduced mAHP after spike trains (and not after single spikes). The SK and Kv7/M channel openers 1-EBIO and retigabine, respectively, had effects opposite to the blockers. Computational modelling reproduced many of these effects. We conclude that SK and Kv7/M channels have complementary roles in DGCs. These mechanisms may be important for the dentate network function, as CA3 neurons can be activated or inhibition recruited depending on DGC firing rate.

Transcranial direct current stimulation reverses neurophysiological and behavioural effects of focal inhibition of human pharyngeal motor cortex on swallowing

15 February 2014

The human cortical swallowing system exhibits bilateral but functionally asymmetric representation in health and disease as evidenced by both focal cortical inhibition (pre-conditioning with 1 Hz repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation; rTMS) and unilateral stroke, where disruption of the stronger (dominant) pharyngeal projection alters swallowing neurophysiology and behaviour. Moreover, excitatory neurostimulation protocols capable of reversing the disruptive effects of focal cortical inhibition have demonstrated therapeutic promise in post-stroke dysphagia when applied contralaterally. In healthy participants (n = 15, 8 males, mean age (±SEM) 35 ± 9 years), optimal parameters of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) (anodal, 1.5 mA, 10 min) were applied contralaterally after 1 Hz rTMS pre-conditioning to the strongest pharyngeal projection. Swallowing neurophysiology was assessed in both hemispheres by intraluminal recordings of pharyngeal motor-evoked responses (PMEPs) to single-pulse TMS as a measure of cortical excitability. Swallowing behaviour was examined using a pressure-based reaction time protocol. Measurements were made before and for up to 60 min post intervention. Subjects were randomised to active or sham tDCS after 1 Hz rTMS on separate days and data were compared using repeated measures ANOVA. Active tDCS increased PMEPs bilaterally (F1,14 = 7.4, P = 0.017) reversing the inhibitory effects of 1 Hz rTMS in the pre-conditioned hemisphere (F1,14 = 10.1, P = 0.007). Active tDCS also enhanced swallowing behaviour, increasing the number of correctly timed challenge swallows compared to sham (F1,14 = 6.3, P = 0.025). Thus, tDCS to the contralateral pharyngeal motor cortex reverses the neurophysiological and behavioural effects of focal cortical inhibition on swallowing in healthy individuals and has therapeutic potential for dysphagia rehabilitation.

Looping circuit: a novel mechanism for prolonged spontaneous [Ca2+]i increases in developing embryonic mouse brainstem

15 February 2014

Most cells maintain [Ca2+]i at extremely low levels; calcium entry usually occurs briefly, and within seconds it is cleared. However, at embryonic day 12.5 in the mouse brainstem, trains of spontaneous events occur with [Ca2+]i staying close to peak value, well above baseline, for minutes; we termed this ‘bash bursts’. Here, we investigate the mechanism of this unusual activity using calcium imaging and electrophysiology. Bash bursts are triggered by an event originating at the mid-line of the rostral hindbrain and are usually the result of that event propagating repeatedly along a defined circular path. The looping circuit can either encompass both the midbrain and hindbrain or remain in the hindbrain only, and the type of loop determines the duration of a single lap time, 5 or 3 s, respectively. Bash bursts are supported by high membrane excitability of mid-line cells and are regulated by persistent inward ‘window current’ at rest, contributing to spontaneous activity. This looping circuit is an effective means for increasing [Ca2+]i at brief, regular intervals. Bash bursts disappear by embryonic day 13.5 via alteration of the looping circuit, curtailing the short epoch of bash bursts. The resulting sustained [Ca2+]i may influence development of raphe serotonergic and ventral tegmental dopaminergic neurons by modulating gene expression.

Modulation of stimulus-specific adaptation by GABAA receptor activation or blockade in the medial geniculate body of the anaesthetized rat

15 February 2014

Stimulus-specific adaptation (SSA), which describes adaptation to repeated sounds concurrent with the maintenance of responsiveness to uncommon ones, may be an important neuronal mechanism for the detection of and attendance to rare stimuli or for the detection of deviance. It is well known that GABAergic neurotransmission regulates several different response properties in central auditory system neurons and that GABA is the major inhibitory neurotransmitter acting in the medial geniculate body (MGB). The mechanisms underlying SSA are still poorly understood; therefore, the primary aim of the present study was to examine what role, if any, MGB GABAergic circuits play in the generation and/or modulation of SSA. Microiontophoretic activation of GABAA receptors (GABAARs) with GABA or with the selective GABAAR agonist gaboxadol significantly increased SSA (computed with the common SSA index, CSI) by decreasing responses to common stimuli while having a lesser effect on responses to novel stimuli. In contrast, GABAAR blockade using gabazine resulted in a significant decrease in SSA. In all cases, decreases in the CSI during gabazine application were accompanied by an increase in firing rate to the stimulus paradigm. The present findings, in conjunction with those of previous studies, suggest that GABAA-mediated inhibition does not generate the SSA response, but can regulate the level of SSA sensitivity in a gain control manner. The existence of successive hierarchical levels of processing through the auditory system suggests that the GABAergic circuits act to enhance mechanisms to reduce redundant information.

Bi-directional modulation of somatosensory mismatch negativity with transcranial direct current stimulation: an event related potential study

15 February 2014

Appropriate orientation towards potentially salient novel environmental stimuli requires a system capable of detecting change in the sensorium. Mismatch negativity (MMN), an evoked potential calculated by subtracting the response to a standard repeated stimulus and a rare ‘oddball’ stimulus, is proposed as such a change detection mechanism. It is most widely studied in the auditory domain, but here we chose to explore the mechanism of somatosensory MMN, and specifically its dependence on the cerebellum. We recorded event-related potentials (ERPs) evoked in response to auditory and sensory stimuli from 10 healthy subjects before and after anodal, cathodal and sham transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) of the right cerebellar hemisphere. There was a significant increase in peak amplitude of somatosensory MMN after anodal tDCS (F(1,9) = 8.98, P < 0.02, mean difference anodal pre–post: –1.02 μV) and a significant reduction in peak amplitude of somatosensory MMN after cathodal tDCS (F(1,9) = 7.15, P < 0.03, mean difference cathodal pre–post: 0.65 μV). The amplitude of auditory MMN was unchanged by tDCS. These results reveal the capability of tDCS to cause bidirectional modulation of somatosensory MMN and the dependence of somatosensory MMN on the cerebellum.

Morphological, biophysical and synaptic properties of glutamatergic neurons of the mouse spinal dorsal horn

15 February 2014

Interneurons of the spinal dorsal horn are central to somatosensory and nociceptive processing. A mechanistic understanding of their function depends on profound knowledge of their intrinsic properties and their integration into dorsal horn circuits. Here, we have used BAC transgenic mice expressing enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP) under the control of the vesicular glutamate transporter (vGluT2) gene (vGluT2::eGFP mice) to perform a detailed electrophysiological and morphological characterisation of excitatory dorsal horn neurons, and to compare their properties to those of GABAergic (Gad67::eGFP tagged) and glycinergic (GlyT2::eGFP tagged) neurons. vGluT2::eGFP was detected in about one-third of all excitatory dorsal horn neurons and, as demonstrated by the co-expression of vGluT2::eGFP with different markers of subtypes of glutamatergic neurons, probably labelled a representative fraction of these neurons. Three types of dendritic tree morphologies (vertical, central, and radial), but no islet cell-type morphology, were identified in vGluT2::eGFP neurons. vGluT2::eGFP neurons had more depolarised action potential thresholds and longer action potential durations than inhibitory neurons, while no significant differences were found for the resting membrane potential, input resistance, cell capacitance and after-hyperpolarisation. Delayed firing and single action potential firing were the single most prevalent firing patterns in vGluT2::eGFP neurons of the superficial and deep dorsal horn, respectively. By contrast, tonic firing prevailed in inhibitory interneurons of the dorsal horn. Capsaicin-induced synaptic inputs were detected in about half of the excitatory and inhibitory neurons, and occurred more frequently in superficial than in deep dorsal horn neurons. Primary afferent-evoked (polysynaptic) inhibitory inputs were found in the majority of glutamatergic and glycinergic neurons, but only in less than half of the GABAergic population. Excitatory dorsal horn neurons thus differ from their inhibitory counterparts in several biophysical properties and possibly also in their integration into the local neuronal circuitry.

Properties of cholinergic and non-cholinergic submucosal neurons along the mouse colon

15 February 2014

Submucosal neurons are vital regulators of water and electrolyte secretion and local blood flow in the gut. Due to the availability of transgenic models for enteric neuropathies, the mouse has emerged as the research model of choice, but much is still unknown about the murine submucosal plexus. The progeny of choline acetyltransferase (ChAT)-Cre x ROSA26YFP reporter mice, ChAT-Cre;R26R-yellow fluorescent protein (YFP) mice, express YFP in every neuron that has ever expressed ChAT. With the aid of the robust YFP staining in these mice, we correlated the neurochemistry, morphology and electrophysiology of submucosal neurons in distal colon. We also examined whether there are differences in neurochemistry along the colon and in neurally mediated vectorial ion transport between the proximal and distal colon. All YFP+ submucosal neurons also contained ChAT. Two main neurochemical but not electrophysiological groups of neurons were identified: cholinergic (containing ChAT) or non-cholinergic. The vast majority of neurons in the middle and distal colon were non-cholinergic but contained vasoactive intestinal peptide. In the distal colon, non-cholinergic neurons had one or two axons, whereas the cholinergic neurons examined had only one axon. All submucosal neurons exhibited S-type electrophysiology, shown by the lack of long after-hyperpolarizing potentials following their action potentials and fast excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs). Fast EPSPs were predominantly nicotinic, and somatic action potentials were mediated by tetrodotoxin-resistant voltage-gated channels. The size of submucosal ganglia decreased but the proportion of cholinergic neurons increased distally along the colon. The distal colon had a significantly larger nicotinic ion transport response than the proximal colon. This work shows that the properties of murine submucosal neurons and their control of epithelial ion transport differ between colonic regions. There are several key differences between the murine submucous plexus and that of other animals, including a lack of conventional intrinsic sensory neurons, which suggests there is an incomplete neuronal circuitry within the murine submucous plexus.

Mechanisms by which a CACNA1H mutation in epilepsy patients increases seizure susceptibility

15 February 2014

T-type calcium channels play essential roles in regulating neuronal excitability and network oscillations in the brain. Mutations in the gene encoding Cav3.2 T-type Ca2+ channels, CACNA1H, have been found in association with various forms of idiopathic generalized epilepsy. We and others have found that these mutations may influence neuronal excitability either by altering the biophysical properties of the channels or by increasing their surface expression. The goals of the present study were to investigate the excitability of neurons expressing Cav3.2 with the epilepsy mutation, C456S, and to elucidate the mechanisms by which it influences neuronal properties. We found that expression of the recombinant C456S channels substantially increased the excitability of cultured neurons by increasing the spontaneous firing rate and reducing the threshold for rebound burst firing. Additionally, we found that molecular determinants in the I–II loop (the region in which most childhood absence epilepsy-associated mutations are found) substantially increase the surface expression of T-channels but do not alter the relative distribution of channels into dendrites of cultured hippocampal neurons. Finally, we discovered that expression of C456S channels promoted dendritic growth and arborization. These effects were reversed to normal by either the absence epilepsy drug ethosuximide or a novel T-channel blocker, TTA-P2. As Ca2+-regulated transcription factors also increase dendritic development, we tested a transactivator trap assay and found that the C456S variant can induce changes in gene transcription. Taken together, our findings suggest that gain-of-function mutations in Cav3.2 T-type Ca2+ channels increase seizure susceptibility by directly altering neuronal electrical properties and indirectly by changing gene expression.