Although motoneurons have often been considered to be fairly linear transducers of synaptic input, recent evidence suggests that strong persistent inward currents (PICs) in motoneurons allow neuromodulatory and inhibitory synaptic inputs to induce large nonlinearities in the relation between the level of excitatory input and motor output. To try and estimate the possible extent of this nonlinearity, we developed a pool of model motoneurons designed to replicate the characteristics of motoneuron input-output properties measured in medial gastrocnemius motoneurons in the decerebrate cat using voltage-clamp and current-clamp techniques. We drove the model pool with a range of synaptic inputs consisting of various mixtures of excitation, inhibition and neuromodulation. We then looked at the relation between excitatory drive and total pool output. Our results revealed that the PICs not only enhance gain but also induce a strong nonlinearity in the relation between the average firing rate of the motoneuron pool and the level of excitatory input. The relation between the total simulated force output and input was somewhat more linear due to higher force outputs in later recruited units. We also found that the non-linearity can be increased by increasing neuromodulatory input and/or balanced inhibitory input and minimized by a reciprocal, push-pull pattern of inhibition. We consider the possibility that a flexible input-output function may allow motor output to be tuned to match the widely varying demands of the normal motor repertoire.
- Motoneuron pool
- persistent inward currents (PIC)
- motor unit discharge
- Copyright © 2016, Journal of Neurophysiology