Journal of Physiology

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Calcium regulation of neural rhythms, memory and Alzheimer's disease

22 January 2014

Alzheimer's disease (AD) begins with a decline in cognition followed by neuronal cell death and dementia. These changes have been linked to a deregulation of Ca2+ signalling caused by a progressive increase in the resting level of Ca2+, which may influence cognition by interfering with the rhythm rheostat that controls the sleep/wake cycle. The rise in resting levels of Ca2+ may not alter the processes of memory acquisition during consciousness (gamma and theta rhythms), but may duplicate some of the events that occur during the slow oscillations responsible for the twin processes of memory consolidation and memory erasure that occur during sleep. The persistent elevation in the resting level of Ca2+ induced by an accumulation of amyloid β (Aβ) oligomers duplicates a similar small global elevation normally restricted to the period of slow oscillations when memories are erased during sleep. In AD, such a rapid erasure of memories soon after they are acquired during the wake period means that they are not retained for consolidation during sleep. The Aβ deregulates Ca2+ signalling through direct effects on the neurons and indirectly by inducing inflammatory responses in the microglia and astrocytes. Some of these deleterious effects of Aβ may be alleviated by vitamin D.

The developmental stages of synaptic plasticity

01 January 2014
Abstract 

The brain is programmed to drive behaviour by precisely wiring the appropriate neuronal circuits. Wiring and rewiring of neuronal circuits largely depends on the orchestrated changes in the strengths of synaptic contacts. Here, we review how the rules of synaptic plasticity change during development of the brain, from birth to independence. We focus on the changes that occur at the postsynaptic side of excitatory glutamatergic synapses in the rodent hippocampus and neocortex. First we summarize the current data on the structure of synapses and the developmental expression patterns of the key molecular players of synaptic plasticity, N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) and -amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA) receptors, as well as pivotal kinases (Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II, protein kinase A, protein kinase C) and phosphatases (PP1, PP2A, PP2B). In the second part we relate these findings to important characteristics of the emerging network. We argue that the concerted and gradual shifts in the usage of plasticity molecules comply with the changing need for (re)wiring neuronal circuits.

Mechanisms contributing to cluster formation in the inferior olivary nucleus in brainstem slices from postnatal mice

01 January 2014
Abstract 

The inferior olivary nucleus (IO) in in vitro slices from postnatal mice (P5.5–P15.5) spontaneously generates clusters of neurons with synchronous calcium transients, and intracellular recordings from IO neurons suggest that electrical coupling between neighbouring IO neurons may serve as a synchronizing mechanism. Here, we studied the cluster-forming mechanism and find that clusters overlap extensively with an overlap distribution that resembles the distribution for a random overlap model. The average somatodendritic field size of single curly IO neurons was ~6400 m2, which is slightly smaller than the average IO cluster size. Eighty-seven neurons with overlapping dendrites were estimated to be contained in the principal olive mean cluster size, and about six non-overlapping curly IO neurons could be contained within the largest clusters. Clusters could also be induced by iontophoresis with glutamate. Induced clusters were inhibited by tetrodotoxin, carbenoxelone and 18-glycyrrhetinic acid, suggesting that sodium action potentials and electrical coupling are involved in glutamate-induced cluster formation, which could also be induced by activation of N-methyl-d-aspartate and -amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid receptors. Spikelets and a small transient depolarizing response were observed during glutamate-induced cluster formation. Calcium transients spread with decreasing velocity during cluster formation, and somatic action potentials and cluster formation are accompanied by large dendritic calcium transients. In conclusion, cluster formation depends on gap junctions, sodium action potentials and spontaneous clusters occur randomly throughout the IO. The relative slow signal spread during cluster formation, combined with a strong dendritic influx of calcium, may signify that active dendritic properties contribute to cluster formation.

Inner retinal inhibition shapes the receptive field of retinal ganglion cells in primate

01 January 2014
Abstract 

The centre–surround organisation of receptive fields is a feature of most retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) and is critical for spatial discrimination and contrast detection. Although lateral inhibitory processes are known to be important in generating the receptive field surround, the contribution of each of the two synaptic layers in the primate retina remains unclear. Here we studied the spatial organisation of excitatory and inhibitory synaptic inputs onto ON and OFF ganglion cells in the primate retina. All RGCs showed an increase in excitation in response to stimulus of preferred polarity. Inhibition onto RGCs comprised two types of responses to preferred polarity: some RGCs showed an increase in inhibition whilst others showed removal of tonic inhibition. Excitatory inputs were strongly spatially tuned but inhibitory inputs showed more variable organisation: in some neurons they were as strongly tuned as excitation, and in others inhibitory inputs showed no spatial tuning. We targeted one source of inner retinal inhibition by functionally ablating spiking amacrine cells with bath application of tetrodotoxin (TTX). TTX significantly reduced the spatial tuning of excitatory inputs. In addition, TTX reduced inhibition onto those RGCs where a stimulus of preferred polarity increased inhibition. Reconstruction of the spatial tuning properties by somatic injection of excitatory and inhibitory synaptic conductances verified that TTX-mediated inhibition onto bipolar cells increases the strength of the surround in RGC spiking output. These results indicate that in the primate retina inhibitory mechanisms in the inner plexiform layer sharpen the spatial tuning of ganglion cells.

Endogenous zinc depresses GABAergic transmission via T-type Ca2+ channels and broadens the time window for integration of glutamatergic inputs in dentate granule cells

01 January 2014
Abstract 

Zinc actions on synaptic transmission span the modulation of neurotransmitter receptors, transporters, activation of intracellular cascades and alterations in gene expression. Whether and how zinc affects inhibitory synaptic signalling in the dentate gyrus remains largely unexplored. We found that mono- and di-synaptic GABAergic inputs onto dentate granule cells were reversibly depressed by exogenous zinc application and enhanced by zinc chelation. Blocking T-type Ca2+ channels prevented the effect of zinc chelation. When recording from dentate fast-spiking interneurones, zinc chelation facilitated T-type Ca2+ currents, increased action potential half-width and decreased spike threshold. It also increased the offset of the input–output relation in a manner consistent with enhanced excitability. In granule cells, chelation of zinc reduced the time window for the integration of glutamatergic inputs originating from perforant path synapses, resulting in reduced spike transfer. Thus, zinc-mediated modulation of dentate interneurone excitability and GABA release regulates information flow to local targets and hippocampal networks.

Astroglial potassium clearance contributes to short-term plasticity of synaptically evoked currents at the tripartite synapse

01 January 2014
Abstract 

Astroglial processes enclose ~60% of CA1 hippocampal synapses to form the tripartite synapse. Although astrocytes express ionic channels, neurotransmitter receptors and transporters to detect neuronal activity, the nature, plasticity and impact of the currents induced by neuronal activity on short-term synaptic plasticity remain elusive in hippocampal astrocytes. Using simultaneous electrophysiological recordings of astrocytes and neurons, we found that single stimulation of Schaffer collaterals in hippocampal slices evokes in stratum radiatum astrocytes a complex prolonged inward current synchronized to synaptic and spiking activity in CA1 pyramidal cells. The astroglial current is composed of three components sensitive to neuronal activity, i.e. a long-lasting potassium current mediated by Kir4.1 channels, a transient glutamate transporter current and a slow residual current, partially mediated by GABA transporters and Kir4.1-independent potassium channels. We show that all astroglial membrane currents exhibit activity-dependent short-term plasticity. However, only the astroglial glutamate transporter current displays neuronal-like dynamics and plasticity. As Kir4.1 channel-mediated potassium uptake contributes to 80% of the synaptically evoked astroglial current, we investigated in turn its impact on short-term synaptic plasticity. Using glial conditional Kir4.1 knockout mice, we found that astroglial potassium uptake reduces synaptic responses to repetitive stimulation and post-tetanic potentiation. These results show that astrocytes integrate synaptic activity via multiple ionic channels and transporters and contribute to short-term plasticity in part via potassium clearance mediated by Kir4.1 channels.

Optogenetic identification of an intrinsic cholinergically driven inhibitory oscillator sensitive to cannabinoids and opioids in hippocampal CA1

01 January 2014
Abstract 

Neuronal electrical oscillations in the theta (4–14 Hz) and gamma (30–80 Hz) ranges are necessary for the performance of certain animal behaviours and cognitive processes. Perisomatic GABAergic inhibition is prominently involved in cortical oscillations driven by ACh release from septal cholinergic afferents. In neocortex and hippocampal CA3 regions, parvalbumin (PV)-expressing basket cells, activated by ACh and glutamatergic agonists, largely mediate oscillations. However, in CA1 hippocampus in vitro, cholinergic agonists or the optogenetic release of endogenous ACh from septal afferents induces rhythmic, theta-frequency inhibitory postsynaptic currents (IPSCs) in pyramidal cells, even with glutamatergic transmission blocked. The IPSCs are regulated by exogenous and endogenous cannabinoids, suggesting that they arise from type 1 cannabinoid receptor-expressing (CB1R+) interneurons – mainly cholecystokinin (CCK)-expressing cells. Nevertheless, an occult contribution of PV-expressing interneurons to these rhythms remained conceivable. Here, we directly test this hypothesis by selectively silencing CA1 PV-expressing cells optogenetically with halorhodopsin or archaerhodopsin. However, this had no effect on theta-frequency IPSC rhythms induced by carbachol (CCh). In contrast, the silencing of glutamic acid decarboxylase 2-positive interneurons, which include the CCK-expressing basket cells, strongly suppressed inhibitory oscillations; PV-expressing interneurons appear to play no role. The low-frequency IPSC oscillations induced by CCh or optogenetically stimulated ACh release were also inhibited by a -opioid receptor (MOR) agonist, which was unexpected because MORs in CA1 are not usually associated with CCK-expressing cells. Our results reveal novel properties of an inhibitory oscillator circuit within CA1 that is activated by muscarinic agonists. The oscillations could contribute to behaviourally relevant, atropine-sensitive, theta rhythms and link cannabinoid and opioid actions functionally.

Functional properties of extrasynaptic AMPA and NMDA receptors during postnatal hippocampal neurogenesis

01 January 2014
Abstract 

In the mammalian hippocampus, new granule cells are continuously generated throughout life. Although it is well known that they rapidly form several thousand new glutamatergic synapses, the underlying mechanisms are not well understood. As extrasynaptic NMDA receptors are believed to support the generation of new spines, we have studied the functional properties of extrasynaptic ionotropic glutamate receptors in newborn granule cells in juvenile rats during and after synaptic integration. Using the fast application of glutamate to outside-out membrane patches, we show that all immature granule cells express functional AMPA and NMDA receptors. The density of AMPA receptors was small in cells starting to receive excitatory synaptic input (~30 pS m–2) but substantially increased during synaptic integration to finally reach ~120 pS m–2 in fully mature cells. Interestingly, AMPA receptors showed a biphasic change in desensitization time constant which was slowest during synaptic integration and substantially faster before and afterwards. This was paralleled by a change in the non-desensitizing current component which was maximal during synaptic integration and about 50% smaller afterwards. Surprisingly, the NMDA receptor kinetics and density in young cells was already comparable to mature cells (~10 pS m–2), leading to an enhanced NMDA/AMPA receptor density ratio. Similar to somatic outside-out patches, iontophoretic application of glutamate onto dendrites also revealed an enhanced dendritic NMDA/AMPA ratio in young cells. These data indicate that prolonged AMPA receptor currents in newly generated young granule cells might support the effective activation of extrasynaptic NMDA receptors and therefore constitute a competitive advantage over mature cells for new synapse formation.

The spinal reflex cannot be perceptually separated from voluntary movements

01 January 2014
Abstract 

Both voluntary and involuntary movements activate sensors in the muscles, skin, tendon and joints. As limb movement can result from a mixture of spinal reflexes and voluntary motor commands, the cortical centres underlying conscious proprioception might either aggregate or separate the sensory inputs generated by voluntary movements from those generated by involuntary movements such as spinal reflexes. We addressed whether healthy volunteers could perceive the contribution of a spinal reflex during movements that combined both reflexive and voluntary contributions. Volunteers reported the reflexive contribution in leg movements that were partly driven by the knee-jerk reflex induced by a patellar tendon tap and partly by voluntary motor control. In one condition, participants were instructed to kick back in response to a tendon tap. The results were compared to reflexes in a resting baseline condition without voluntary movement. In a further condition, participants were instructed to kick forwards after a tap. Volunteers reported the perceived reflex contribution by repositioning the leg to the perceived maximum displacement to which the reflex moved the leg after each tendon tap. In the resting baseline condition, the reflex was accurately perceived. We found a near-unity slope of linear regressions of perceived on actual reflexive displacement. Both the slope value and the quality of regression fit in individual volunteers were significantly reduced when volunteers were instructed to generate voluntary backward kicks as soon as they detected the tap. In the kick forward condition, kinematic analysis showed continuity of reflex and voluntary movements, but the reflex contribution could be estimated from electromyography (EMG) recording on each trial. Again, participants' judgements of reflexes showed a poor relation to reflex EMG, in contrast to the baseline condition. In sum, we show that reflexes can be accurately perceived from afferent information. However, the presence of voluntary movement significantly impairs reflex perception. We suggest that perceptual separation between voluntary and reflex movement is poor at best. Our results imply that the brain has no clear marker for perceptually separating voluntary and involuntary movement. Attribution of body movement to voluntary or involuntary motor commands is surprisingly poor when both are present.

Corticospinal modulation induced by sounds depends on action preparedness

01 January 2014
Abstract 

A loud acoustic stimulus (LAS) presented during movement preparation can induce an early release of the prepared action. Because loud sound has been found to have an inhibitory effect on motor cortex excitability, it is possible that the motor cortex plays little role in the early release of prepared responses. We sought to shed new light on this suggestion by probing changes in corticospinal excitability after LAS presentation during preparation for an anticipatory action. Unexpectedly, we show that the changes in corticospinal excitability after LAS presentation are not fixed. Based on the magnitude of motor-evoked potentials elicited by transcranial magnetic and electric stimulation of the motor cortex, we demonstrate that the effects of auditory stimuli on corticospinal excitability depend on the level of readiness for action: inhibition in early preparation and facilitation close to movement onset. We also show that auditory stimuli can regulate intracortical excitability by increasing intracortical facilitation and reducing short-interval intracortical inhibition. Together, these findings indicate that, at least in part, the early release of motor responses by auditory stimuli involves the motor cortex.

Diversity of vestibular nuclei neurons targeted by cerebellar nodulus inhibition

01 January 2014
Abstract 

A functional role of the cerebellar nodulus and ventral uvula (lobules X and IXc,d of the vermis) for vestibular processing has been strongly suggested by direct reciprocal connections with the vestibular nuclei, as well as direct vestibular afferent inputs as mossy fibres. Here we have explored the types of neurons in the macaque vestibular nuclei targeted by nodulus/ventral uvula inhibition using orthodromic identification from the caudal vermis. We found that all nodulus-target neurons are tuned to vestibular stimuli, and most are insensitive to eye movements. Such non-eye-movement neurons are thought to project to vestibulo-spinal and/or thalamo-cortical pathways. Less than 20% of nodulus-target neurons were sensitive to eye movements, suggesting that the caudal vermis can also directly influence vestibulo-ocular pathways. In general, response properties of nodulus-target neurons were diverse, spanning the whole continuum previously described in the vestibular nuclei. Most nodulus-target cells responded to both rotation and translation stimuli and only a few were selectively tuned to translation motion only. Other neurons were sensitive to net linear acceleration, similar to otolith afferents. These results demonstrate that, unlike the flocculus and ventral paraflocculus which target a particular cell group, nodulus/ventral uvula inhibition targets a large diversity of cell types in the vestibular nuclei, consistent with a broad functional significance contributing to vestibulo-ocular, vestibulo-thalamic and vestibulo-spinal pathways.

Phase-shifting response to light in older adults

01 January 2014
Abstract 

Age-related changes in circadian rhythms may contribute to the sleep disruption observed in older adults. A reduction in responsiveness to photic stimuli in the circadian timing system has been hypothesized as a possible reason for the advanced circadian phase in older adults. This project compared phase-shifting responses to 2 h of broad-spectrum white light at moderate and high intensities in younger and older adults. Subjects included 29 healthy young (25.1 ± 4.1 years; male to female ratio: 8: 21) and 16 healthy older (66.5 ± 6.0 years; male to female ratio: 5: 11) subjects, who participated in two 4-night and 3-day laboratory stays, separated by at least 3 weeks. Subjects were randomly assigned to one of three different time-points, 8 h before (–8), 3 h before (–3) or 3 h after (+3) the core body temperature minimum (CBTmin) measured on the baseline night. For each condition, subjects were exposed in a randomized order to 2 h light pulses of two intensities (2000 lux and 8000 lux) during the two different laboratory stays. Phase shifts were analysed according to the time of melatonin midpoint on the nights before and after light exposure. Older subjects in this study showed an earlier baseline phase and lower amplitude of melatonin rhythm compared to younger subjects, but there was no evidence of age-related changes in the magnitude or direction of phase shifts of melatonin midpoint in response to 2 h of light at either 2000 lux or 8000 lux. These results indicate that the acute phase-shifting response to moderate- or high-intensity broad spectrum light is not significantly affected by age.

Velocity storage mechanism in zebrafish larvae

01 January 2014
Abstract 

The optokinetic reflex (OKR) and the angular vestibulo-ocular reflex (aVOR) complement each other to stabilize images on the retina despite self- or world motion, a joint mechanism that is critical for effective vision. It is currently hypothesized that signals from both systems integrate, in a mathematical sense, in a network of neurons operating as a velocity storage mechanism (VSM). When exposed to a rotating visual surround, subjects display the OKR, slow following eye movements frequently interrupted by fast resetting eye movements. Subsequent to light-off during optokinetic stimulation, eye movements do not stop abruptly, but decay slowly, a phenomenon referred to as the optokinetic after-response (OKAR). The OKAR is most likely generated by the VSM. In this study, we observed the OKAR in developing larval zebrafish before the horizontal aVOR emerged. Our results suggest that the VSM develops prior to and without the need for a functional aVOR. It may be critical to ocular motor control in early development as it increases the efficiency of the OKR.

Calcineurin inhibitor induces pain hypersensitivity by potentiating pre- and postsynaptic NMDA receptor activity in spinal cords

01 January 2014
Abstract 

Calcineurin inhibitors, such as cyclosporin A and tacrolimus (FK506), have played a pivotal role in the preservation of allograft function. However, these drugs can cause unexplained severe pain in patients, often referred to as calcineurin inhibitor-induced pain syndrome (CIPS). Although calcineurin can regulate NMDA receptor (NMDAR) activity, the causal relationship between spinal synaptic plasticity and CIPS remains unknown. In this study, we showed that systemic administration of FK506 (1.5 mg kg–1 day–1) for 7 days in rats led to long-lasting nociceptive and mechanical hypersensitivity. Whole-cell patch-clamp recordings in spinal cord slices revealed that FK506 treatment caused a large increase in the amplitude of NMDAR-mediated excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) of dorsal horn neurons evoked by dorsal root stimulation. The amplitude of NMDAR currents elicited by puff NMDA application to dorsal horn neurons was also significantly greater in FK506-treated than in vehicle-treated rats. The frequency of spontaneous and miniature EPSCs in most dorsal horn neurons was profoundly increased in FK506-treated rats and was reduced by blocking NMDARs. Furthermore, blocking GluN2A or GluN2B subunits similarly reduced the amplitude of evoked EPSCs and the frequency of miniature EPSCs in dorsal horn neurons of FK506-treated rats. In addition, intrathecal injection of an NMDAR antagonist or systemic administration of memantine effectively reversed nociceptive and mechanical hypersensitivity in FK506-treated rats. Our findings indicate that calcineurin inhibition increases glutamate-mediated nociceptive input by potentiating presynaptic and postsynaptic NMDAR activity in spinal cords. NMDAR antagonists may represent a new therapeutic option for the treatment of CIPS.

Kv3.3 channels harbouring a mutation of spinocerebellar ataxia type 13 alter excitability and induce cell death in cultured cerebellar Purkinje cells

01 January 2014
Abstract 

The cerebellum plays crucial roles in controlling sensorimotor functions. The neural output from the cerebellar cortex is transmitted solely by Purkinje cells (PCs), whose impairment causes cerebellar ataxia. Spinocerebellar ataxia type 13 (SCA13) is an autosomal dominant disease, and SCA13 patients exhibit cerebellar atrophy and cerebellar symptoms. Recent studies have shown that missense mutations in the voltage-gated K+ channel Kv3.3 are responsible for SCA13. In the rodent brain, Kv3.3 mRNAs are expressed most strongly in PCs, suggesting that the mutations severely affect PCs in SCA13 patients. Nevertheless, how these mutations affect the function of Kv3.3 in PCs and, consequently, the morphology and neuronal excitability of PCs remains unclear. To address these questions, we used lentiviral vectors to express mutant mouse Kv3.3 (mKv3.3) channels harbouring an R424H missense mutation, which corresponds to the R423H mutation in the Kv3.3 channels of SCA13 patients, in mouse cerebellar cultures. The R424H mutant-expressing PCs showed decreased outward current density, broadened action potentials and elevated basal [Ca2+]i compared with PCs expressing wild-type mKv3.3 subunits or those expressing green fluorescent protein alone. Moreover, expression of R424H mutant subunits induced impaired dendrite development and cell death selectively in PCs, both of which were rescued by blocking P/Q-type Ca2+ channels in the culture conditions. We therefore concluded that expression of R424H mutant subunits in PCs markedly affects the function of endogenous Kv3 channels, neuronal excitability and, eventually, basal [Ca2+]i, leading to cell death. These results suggest that PCs in SCA13 patients also exhibit similar defects in PC excitability and induced cell death, which may explain the pathology of SCA13.