Journal of Physiology

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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.

Defining the neurocircuitry of exercise hyperpnoea

01 February 2014

One hundred years ago in this journal, Krogh and Lindhard published a seminal paper highlighting the importance of the brain in the control of breathing during exercise. This symposium report reviews the historical developments that have taken place since 1913, and attempts to place the detailed neurocircuitry thought to underpin exercise hyperpnoea into context by focusing on key structures that might form the command network. With the advent of enhanced neuroimaging and functional neurosurgical techniques, a unique window of opportunity has recently arisen to target potential circuits in humans. Animal studies have identified a priori sites of interest in mid-brain structures, in particular the subthalamic locomotor region (subthalamic nucleus, STN) and the periaqueductal grey (PAG), which have now been recorded from in humans during exercise. When all data are viewed in an integrative manner, the PAG, in particular the lateral PAG, and aspects of the dorsal lateral PAG, appear to be key communicating circuitry for ‘central command’. Moreover, the PAG also fulfils many requirements of a command centre. It has functional connectivity to higher centres (dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex) and the basal ganglia (in particular, the STN), and receives a sensory input from contracting muscle, but, importantly, it sends efferent information to brainstem nuclei involved in cardiorespiratory control.

The fast exercise drive to breathe

01 February 2014

This paper presents a personal view of research into the exercise drive to breathe that can be observed to act immediately to increase breathing at the start of rhythmic exercise. It is based on a talk given at the Experimental Biology 2013 meeting in a session entitled ‘Recent advances in understanding mechanisms regulating breathing during exercise’. This drive to breathe has its origin in a combination of central command, whereby voluntary motor commands to the exercising muscles produce a concurrent respiratory drive, and afferent feedback, whereby afferent information from the exercising muscles affects breathing. The drive at the start and end of rhythmic exercise is proportional to limb movement frequency, and its magnitude decays as exercise continues so that the immediate decrease of ventilation at the end of exercise is about 60% of the immediate increase at the start. With such evidence for the effect of this fast drive to breathe at the start and end of rhythmic exercise, its existence during exercise is hypothesised. Experiments to test this hypothesis have, however, provided debatable evidence. A fast drive to breathe during both ramp and sine wave changes in treadmill exercise speed and grade appears to be present in some individuals, but is not as evident in the general population. Recent sine-wave cycling experiments show that when cadence is varied sinusoidally the ventilation response lags by about 10 s, whereas when pedal loading is varied ventilation lags by about 30 s. It therefore appears that limb movement frequency is effective in influencing ventilation during exercise as well as at the start and end of exercise.

Tracking pulmonary gas exchange by breathing control during exercise: role of muscle blood flow

01 February 2014

Populations of group III and IV muscle afferent fibres located in the adventitia of the small vessels appear to respond to the level of venular distension and to recruitment of the vascular bed within the skeletal muscles. The CNS could thus be informed on the level of muscle hyperaemia when the metabolic rate varies. As a result, the magnitude and kinetics of the change in peripheral gas exchange – which translates into pulmonary gas exchange – can be sensed. We present the view that the respiratory control system uses these sources of information of vascular origin, among the numerous inputs produced by exercise, as a marker of the metabolic strain imposed on the circulatory and the ventilatory systems, resulting in an apparent matching between pulmonary gas exchange and alveolar ventilation.

Are type III-IV muscle afferents required for a normal steady-state exercise hyperpnoea in humans?

01 February 2014

When tested in isolation, stimuli associated with respiratory CO2 exchange, feedforward central command and type III–IV muscle afferent feedback have each been shown to be capable of eliciting exercise-like cardio-ventilatory responses, but their relative contributions in a setting of physiological exercise remains controversial. We reasoned that in order to determine whether any of these regulators are obligatory to the exercise hyperpnoea each needs to be removed or significantly diminished in a setting of physiological steady-state exercise, during which all recognized stimuli (and other potential modulators) are normally operative. In the past few years we and others have used intrathecal fentanyl, a μ-opiate receptor agonist, in humans to reduce the input from type III–IV opiate-sensitive muscle afferents. During various types of intensities and durations of exercise a sustained hypoventilation, as well as reduced systemic pressure and cardioacceleration, were consistently observed with this blockade. These data provide the basis for the hypothesis that type III–IV muscle afferents are obligatory to the hyperpnoea of mild to moderate intensity rhythmic, large muscle, steady-state exercise. We discuss the limitations of these studies, the reasons for their disagreement with previous negative findings, the nature of the muscle afferent feedback stimulus and the need for future investigations.

Xanthine oxidase and the fetal cardiovascular defence to hypoxia in late gestation ovine pregnancy

01 February 2014

Hypoxia is a common challenge to the fetus, promoting a physiological defence to redistribute blood flow towards the brain and away from peripheral circulations. During acute hypoxia, reactive oxygen species (ROS) interact with nitric oxide (NO) to provide an oxidant tone. This contributes to the mechanisms redistributing the fetal cardiac output, although the source of ROS is unknown. Here, we investigated whether ROS derived from xanthine oxidase (XO) contribute to the fetal peripheral vasoconstrictor response to hypoxia via interaction with NO-dependent mechanisms. Pregnant ewes and their fetuses were surgically prepared for long-term recording at 118 days of gestation (term approximately 145 days). After 5 days of recovery, mothers were infused i.v. for 30 min with either vehicle (n = 11), low dose (30 mg kg–1, n = 5) or high dose (150 mg kg–1, n = 9) allopurinol, or high dose allopurinol with fetal NO blockade (n = 6). Following allopurinol treatment, fetal hypoxia was induced by reducing maternal inspired O2 such that fetal basal P aO 2 decreased approximately by 50% for 30 min. Allopurinol inhibited the increase in fetal plasma uric acid and suppressed the fetal femoral vasoconstrictor, glycaemic and lactate acidaemic responses during hypoxia (all P < 0.05), effects that were restored to control levels with fetal NO blockade. The data provide evidence for the activation of fetal XO in vivo during hypoxia and for XO-derived ROS in contributing to the fetal peripheral vasoconstriction, part of the fetal defence to hypoxia. The data are of significance to the understanding of the physiological control of the fetal cardiovascular system during hypoxic stress. The findings are also of clinical relevance in the context of obstetric trials in which allopurinol is being administered to pregnant women when the fetus shows signs of hypoxic distress.

Purinergic control of vascular tone in the retina

01 February 2014

Purinergic control of vascular tone in the CNS has been largely unexplored. This study examines the contribution of endogenous extracellular ATP, acting on vascular smooth muscle cells, in controlling vascular tone in the in vivo rat retina. Retinal vessels were labelled by i.v. injection of a fluorescent dye and imaged with scanning laser confocal microscopy. The diameters of primary arterioles were monitored under control conditions and following intravitreal injection of pharmacological agents. Apyrase (500 units ml–1), an ATP hydrolysing enzyme, dilated retinal arterioles by 40.4 ± 2.8%, while AOPCP (12.5 mm), an ecto-5'-nucleotidase inhibitor that increases extracellular ATP levels, constricted arterioles by 58.0 ± 3.8% (P < 0.001 for both), demonstrating the importance of ATP in the control of basal vascular tone. Suramin (500 μm), a broad-spectrum P2 receptor antagonist, dilated retinal arterioles by 50.9 ± 3.7% (P < 0.001). IsoPPADS (300 μm) and TNP-ATP (50 μm), more selective P2X antagonists, dilated arterioles by 41.0 ± 5.3% and 55.2 ± 6.1% respectively (P < 0.001 for both). NF023 (50 μm), a potent antagonist of P2X1 receptors, dilated retinal arterioles by 32.1 ± 2.6% (P < 0.001). A438079 (500 μm) and AZ10606120 (50 μm), P2X7 antagonists, had no effect on basal vascular tone (P = 0.99 and P = 1.00 respectively). In the ex vivo retina, the P2X1 receptor agonist α,β-methylene ATP (300 nm) evoked sustained vasoconstrictions of 18.7 ± 3.2% (P < 0.05). In vivo vitreal injection of the gliotoxin fluorocitrate (150 μm) dilated retinal vessels by 52.3 ± 1.1% (P < 0.001) and inhibited the vasodilatory response to NF023 (50 μm, 7.9 ± 2.0%; P < 0.01). These findings suggest that vascular tone in rat retinal arterioles is maintained by tonic release of ATP from the retina. ATP acts on P2X1 receptors, although contributions from other P2X and P2Y receptors cannot be ruled out. Retinal glial cells are a possible source of the vasoconstricting ATP.