Journal of Physiology
It is commonly assumed that the orderly recruitment of motor units by size provides a functional advantage for the performance of movements compared with a random recruitment order. On the other hand, the excitability of a motor neuron depends on its size and this is intrinsically linked to its innervation number. A range of innervation numbers among motor neurons corresponds to a range of sizes and thus to a range of excitabilities ordered by size. Therefore, if the excitation drive is similar among motor neurons, the recruitment by size is inevitably due to the intrinsic properties of motor neurons and may not have arisen to meet functional demands. In this view, we tested the assumption that orderly recruitment is necessarily beneficial by determining if this type of recruitment produces optimal motor output. Using evolutionary algorithms and without any a priori assumptions, the parameters of neuromuscular models were optimized with respect to several criteria for motor performance. Interestingly, the optimized model parameters matched well known neuromuscular properties, but none of the optimization criteria determined a consistent recruitment order by size unless this was imposed by an association between motor neuron size and excitability. Further, when the association between size and excitability was imposed, the resultant model of recruitment did not improve the motor performance with respect to the absence of orderly recruitment. A consistent observation was that optimal solutions for a variety of criteria of motor performance always required a broad range of innervation numbers in the population of motor neurons, skewed towards the small values. These results indicate that orderly recruitment of motor units in itself does not provide substantial functional advantages for motor control. Rather, the reason for its near-universal presence in human movements is that motor functions are optimized by a broad range of innervation numbers.
The carotid body (CB) is the major peripheral arterial chemoreceptor in mammals that mediates the acute hyperventilatory response to hypoxia. The CB grows in response to sustained hypoxia and also participates in acclimatisation to chronic hypoxaemia. Knowledge of CB physiology at the cellular level has increased considerably in recent times thanks to studies performed on lower mammals, and rodents in particular. However, the functional characteristics of human CB cells remain practically unknown. Herein, we use tissue slices or enzymatically dispersed cells to determine the characteristics of human CB cells. The adult human CB parenchyma contains clusters of chemosensitive glomus (type I) and sustentacular (type II) cells as well as nestin-positive progenitor cells. This organ also expresses high levels of the dopaminotrophic glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF). We found that GDNF production and the number of progenitor and glomus cells were preserved in the CBs of human subjects of advanced age. Moreover, glomus cells exhibited voltage-dependent Na+, Ca2+ and K+ currents that were qualitatively similar to those reported in lower mammals. These cells responded to hypoxia with an external Ca2+-dependent increase of cytosolic Ca2+ and quantal catecholamine secretion, as reported for other mammalian species. Interestingly, human glomus cells are also responsive to hypoglycaemia and together these two stimuli can potentiate each other's effects. The chemosensory responses of glomus cells are also preserved at an advanced age. These new data on the cellular and molecular physiology of the CB pave the way for future pathophysiological studies involving this organ in humans.
Down-regulation of CaV1.2 channels during hypertension: how fewer CaV1.2 channels allow more Ca2+ into hypertensive arterial smooth muscle
Hypertension is a clinical syndrome characterized by increased arterial tone. Although the mechanisms are varied, the generally accepted view is that increased CaV1.2 channel function is a common feature of this pathological condition. Here, we investigated the mechanisms underlying vascular dysfunction in a mouse model of genetic hypertension. Contrary to expectation, we found that whole-cell CaV1.2 currents (ICa) were lower in hypertensive (BPH line) than normotensive (BPN line) myocytes. However, local CaV1.2 sparklet activity was higher in BPH cells, suggesting that the relatively low ICa in these cells was produced by a few hyperactive CaV1.2 channels. Furthermore, our data suggest that while the lower expression of the pore-forming 1c subunit of CaV1.2 currents underlies the lower ICa in BPH myocytes, the increased sparklet activity was due to a different composition in the auxiliary subunits of the CaV1.2 complexes. ICa currents in BPN cells were produced by channels composed of 1c/2/3 subunits, while in BPH myocytes currents were probably generated by the opening of channels formed by 1c/2/2 subunits. In addition, Ca2+ sparks evoked large conductance, Ca2+-activated K+ (BK) currents of lower magnitude in BPH than in BPN myocytes, because BK channels were less sensitive to Ca2+. Our data are consistent with a model in which a decrease in the global number of CaV1.2 currents coexist with the existence of a subpopulation of highly active channels that dominate the resting Ca2+ influx. The decrease in BK channel activity makes the hyperpolarizing brake ineffective and leads BPH myocytes to a more contracted resting state.
Platelet-derived growth factor receptor positive (PDGFR+) cells are suggested to mediate purinergic inputs in GI muscles, but the responsiveness of these cells to purines in situ has not been evaluated. We developed techniques to label and visualize PDGFR+ cells in murine gastric fundus, load cells with Ca2+ indicators, and follow their activity via digital imaging. Immunolabelling demonstrated a high density of PDGFR+ cells in the fundus. Cells were isolated and purified by fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) using endogenous expression of enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP) driven off the Pdgfra promoter. Quantitative PCR showed high levels of expression of purinergic P2Y1 receptors and SK3 K+ channels in PDGFR+ cells. Ca2+ imaging was used to characterize spontaneous Ca2+ transients and responses to purines in PDGFR+ cells in situ. ATP, ADP, UTP and -NAD elicited robust Ca2+ transients in PDGFR+ cells. Ca2+ transients were also elicited by the P2Y1-specific agonist (N)-methanocarba-2MeSADP (MRS-2365), and inhibited by MRS-2500, a P2Y1-specific antagonist. Responses to ADP, MRS-2365 and -NAD were absent in PDGFR+ cells from P2ry1(–/–) mice, but responses to ATP were retained. Purine-evoked Ca2+ transients were mediated through Ca2+ release mechanisms. Inhibitors of phospholipase C (U-73122), IP3 (2-APB), ryanodine receptors (Ryanodine) and SERCA pump (cyclopiazonic acid and thapsigargin) abolished Ca2+ transients elicited by purines. This study provides a link between purine binding to P2Y1 receptors and activation of SK3 channels in PDGFR+ cells. Activation of Ca2+ release is likely to be the signalling mechanism in PDGFR+ cells responsible for the transduction of purinergic enteric inhibitory input in gastric fundus muscles.
Physiological roles of glucocorticoids during early embryonic development of the zebrafish (Danio rerio)
While glucocorticoids (GCs) are known to be present in the zebrafish embryo, little is known about their physiological roles at this stage. We hypothesised that GCs play key roles in stress response, hatching and swim activity during early development. To test this, whole embryo cortisol (WEC) and corticosteroid-related genes were measured in embryos from 6 to 120 h post fertilisation (hpf) by enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR). Stress response was assessed by change in WEC following stirring, hypoxia or brief electrical impulses applied to the bathing water. The impact of pharmacological and molecular GC manipulation on the stress response, spontaneous hatching and swim activity at different stages of development was also assessed. WEC levels demonstrated a biphasic pattern during development with a decrease from 0 to 36 hpf followed by a progressive increase towards 120 hpf. This was accompanied by a significant and sustained increase in the expression of genes encoding cyp11b1 (GC biosynthesis), hsd11b2 (GC metabolism) and gr (GC receptor) from 48 to 120 hpf. Metyrapone (Met), an inhibitor of 11-hydroxylase (encoded by cyp11b1), and cyp11b1 morpholino (Mo) knockdown significantly reduced basal and stress-induced WEC levels at 72 and 120 hpf but not at 24 hpf. Spontaneous hatching and swim activity were significantly affected by manipulation of GC action from approximately 48 hpf onwards. We have identified a number of key roles of GCs in zebrafish embryos contributing to adaptive physiological responses under adverse conditions. The ability to alter GC action in the zebrafish embryo also highlights its potential value for GC research.
A cellular memory mechanism aids overload hypertrophy in muscle long after an episodic exposure to anabolic steroids
Previous strength training with or without the use of anabolic steroids facilitates subsequent re-acquisition of muscle mass even after long intervening periods of inactivity. Based on in vivo and ex vivo microscopy we here propose a cellular memory mechanism residing in the muscle cells. Female mice were treated with testosterone propionate for 14 days, inducing a 66% increase in the number of myonuclei and a 77% increase in fibre cross-sectional area. Three weeks after removing the drug, fibre size was decreased to the same level as in sham treated animals, but the number of nuclei remained elevated for at least 3 months (>10% of the mouse lifespan). At this time, when the myonuclei-rich muscles were exposed to overload-exercise for 6 days, the fibre cross-sectional area increased by 31% while control muscles did not grow significantly. We suggest that the lasting, elevated number of myonuclei constitutes a cellular memory facilitating subsequent muscle overload hypertrophy. Our findings might have consequences for the exclusion time of doping offenders. Since the ability to generate new myonuclei is impaired in the elderly our data also invites speculation that it might be beneficial to perform strength training when young in order to benefit in senescence.
Exercise counteracts the effects of short-term overfeeding and reduced physical activity independent of energy imbalance in healthy young men
Physical activity can affect many aspects of metabolism but it is unclear to what extent this relies on manipulation of energy balance. Twenty-six active men age 25 ± 7 years (mean ± SD) were randomly assigned either to consume 50% more energy than normal by over-consuming their habitual diet for 7 days whilst simultaneously restricting their physical activity below 4000 steps day–1 to induce an energy surplus (SUR group; n = 14) or to the same regimen but with 45 min of daily treadmill running at 70% of maximum oxygen uptake (SUR+EX group; n = 12). Critically, the SUR+EX group received additional dietary energy intake to account for the energy expended by exercise, thus maintaining a matched energy surplus. At baseline and follow-up, fasted blood samples and abdominal subcutaneous adipose tissue biopsies were obtained and oral glucose tolerance tests conducted. Insulinaemic responses to a standard glucose load increased 2-fold from baseline to follow-up in the SUR group (17 ± 16 nmol (120 min) l–1; P = 0.002) whereas there was no change in the SUR+EX group (1 ± 6 nmol (120 min) l–1). Seven of 17 genes within adipose tissue were differentially expressed in the SUR group; expression of SREBP-1c, FAS and GLUT4 was significantly up-regulated and expression of PDK4, IRS2, HSL and visfatin was significantly down-regulated (P 0.05). The pAMPK/AMPK protein ratio in adipose tissue was significantly down-regulated in the SUR group (P = 0.005). Vigorous-intensity exercise counteracted most of the effects of short-term overfeeding and under-activity at the whole-body level and in adipose tissue, even in the face of a standardised energy surplus.
Cerebrovascular reactivity is the change in cerebral blood flow in response to a vasodilatory or vasoconstrictive stimulus. Measuring variations of cerebrovascular reactivity between different regions of the brain has the potential to not only advance understanding of how the cerebral vasculature controls the distribution of blood flow but also to detect cerebrovascular pathophysiology. While there are standardized and repeatable methods for estimating the changes in cerebral blood flow in response to a vasoactive stimulus, the same cannot be said for the stimulus itself. Indeed, the wide variety of vasoactive challenges currently employed in these studies impedes comparisons between them. This review therefore critically examines the vasoactive stimuli in current use for their ability to provide a standard repeatable challenge and for the practicality of their implementation. Such challenges include induced reductions in systemic blood pressure, and the administration of vasoactive substances such as acetazolamide and carbon dioxide. We conclude that many of the stimuli in current use do not provide a standard stimulus comparable between individuals and in the same individual over time. We suggest that carbon dioxide is the most suitable vasoactive stimulus. We describe recently developed computer-controlled MRI compatible gas delivery systems which are capable of administering reliable and repeatable vasoactive CO2 stimuli.
Important considerations for protein analyses using antibody based techniques: down-sizing Western blotting up-sizes outcomes
Western blotting has been used for protein analyses in a wide range of tissue samples for >30 years. Fundamental to Western blotting success are a number of important considerations, which unfortunately are often overlooked or not appreciated. Firstly, lowly expressed proteins may often be better detected by dramatically reducing the amount of sample loaded. Single cell (fibre) Western blotting demonstrates the ability to detect proteins in small sample sizes, 5–10 g total mass (1–3 g total protein). That is an order of magnitude less than often used. Using heterogeneous skeletal muscle as the tissue of representation, the need to undertake Western blotting in sample sizes equivalent to single fibre segments is demonstrated. Secondly, incorrect results can be obtained if samples are fractionated and a proportion of the protein of interest inadvertently discarded during sample preparation. Thirdly, quantitative analyses demand that a calibration curve be used. This is regardless of using a loading control, which must be proven to not change with the intervention and also be appropriately calibrated. Fourthly, antibody specificity must be proven using whole tissue analyses, and for immunofluorescence analyses it is vital that only a single protein is detected. If appropriately undertaken, Western blotting is reliable, quantitative, both in relative and absolute terms, and extremely valuable.
Exosomes are vesicles that are released from the kidney into urine. They contain protein and RNA from the glomerulus and all sections of the nephron and represent a reservoir for biomarker discovery. Current methods for the identification and quantification of urinary exosomes are time consuming and only semi-quantitative. Nanoparticle tracking analysis (NTA) counts and sizes particles by measuring their Brownian motion in solution. In this study, we applied NTA to human urine and identified particles with a range of sizes. Using antibodies against the exosomal proteins CD24 and aquaporin 2 (AQP2), conjugated to a fluorophore, we could identify a subpopulation of CD24- and AQP2-positive particles of characteristic exosomal size. Extensive pre-NTA processing of urine was not necessary. However, the intra-assay variability in the measurement of exosome concentration was significantly reduced when an ultracentrifugation step preceded NTA. Without any sample processing, NTA tracked exosomal AQP2 upregulation induced by desmopressin stimulation of kidney collecting duct cells. Nanoparticle tracking analysis was also able to track changes in exosomal AQP2 concentration that followed desmopressin treatment of mice and a patient with central diabetes insipidus. When urine was stored at room temperature, 4°C or frozen, nanoparticle concentration was reduced; freezing at –80°C with the addition of protease inhibitors produced the least reduction. In conclusion, with appropriate sample storage, NTA has potential as a tool for the characterization and quantification of extracellular vesicles in human urine.