Journal of Neurophysiology

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Cutaneous stimulation evokes long-lasting excitation of spinal interneurons in the turtle

S. N. Currie, P. S. Stein


1. We demonstrated multisecond increases in the excitability of the rostral-scratch reflex in the turtle by electrically stimulating the shell at sites within the rostral-scratch receptive field. To examine the cellular mechanisms for these multisecond increases in scratch excitability, we recorded from single cutaneous afferents and sensory interneurons that responded to stimulation of the shell within the rostral-scratch receptive field. A single segment of the midbody spinal cord (D4, the 4th postcervical segment) was isolated in situ by transecting the spinal cord at the segment's anterior and posterior borders. The isolated segment was left attached to its peripheral nerve that innervates part of the rostral-scratch receptive field. A microsuction electrode (4-5 microns ID) was used to record extracellularly from the descending axons of cutaneous afferents and interneurons in the spinal white matter at the posterior end of the D4 segment. 2. The turtle shell is innervated by slowly and rapidly adapting cutaneous afferents. All cutaneous afferents responded to a single electrical stimulus to the shell with a single action potential. Maintained mechanical stimulation applied to the receptive field of some slowly adapting afferents produced several seconds of afterdischarge at stimulus offset. We refer to the cutaneous afferent afterdischarge caused by mechanical stimulation of the shell as "peripheral afterdischarge." 3. Within the D4 spinal segment there were some interneurons that responded to a brief mechanical stimulus within their receptive fields on the shell with short afterdischarge and others that responded with long afterdischarge. Short-afterdischarge interneurons responded to a single electrical pulse to a site in their receptive fields either with a brief train of action potentials or with a single action potential. Long-afterdischarge interneurons responded to a single electrical shell stimulus with up to 30 s of afterdischarge. Long-afterdischarge interneurons also exhibited strong temporal summation in response to a pair of electrical shell stimuli delivered up to several seconds apart. Because all cutaneous afferents responded to an electrical shell stimulus with a single action potential, we conclude that electrically evoked afterdischarge in interneurons was produced by neural mechanisms in the spinal cord; we refer to this type of afterdischarge as "central afterdischarge." 4. These results demonstrate that neural mechanisms for long-lasting excitability changes in response to cutaneous stimulation reside in a single segment of the spinal cord. Cutaneous interneurons with long afterdischarge may serve as cellular loci for multise