Flexible processing of sensory information induced by axo-axonic synapses on afferent fibers

J Physiol Paris. 1999 Sep-Oct;93(4):369-77. doi: 10.1016/s0928-4257(00)80064-9.


Recent experiments indicate that afferent information is processed in the intraspinal arborisation of mammalian group I fibres. During muscle contraction, Ib inputs arising from tendon organs are filtered out by presynaptic inhibition after their entry in the spinal cord. This paper reviews the mechanisms by which GABAergic axo-axonic synapses, i.e., the morphological substrate of presynaptic inhibition, exert this filtering effect. Using confocal microscopy, axo-axonic synapses were demonstrated on segmental Ib collaterals. Most synapses were located on short preterminal and terminal branches. Using a simple compartmental model of myelinated axon, the primary afferent depolarisation (PAD), generated by such synapses, was predicted to reduce the amplitude of incoming action potentials by inactivating the sodium current, and this prediction was experimentally verified. A further theoretical work, relying on cable theory, suggests that the electrotonic structure of collaterals and the distribution of axo-axonic synapses allow large PADs (about 10 mV) to develop on some distal branches, which is likely to result in a substantial presynaptic inhibition. In addition, the electrotonic structure of group I collaterals is likely to prevent PAD from spreading to the whole arborisation. Such a non-uniform diffusion of the PAD accounts for differential presynaptic inhibition in intraspinal branches of the same fibre. Altogether, our experimental and theoretical works suggest that axo-axonic synapses can control the selective funnelling of sensory information toward relevant targets specified according to the motor task.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Axons / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Mental Processes / physiology
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology*
  • Neurons, Afferent / ultrastructure
  • Sensation / physiology*
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synapses / ultrastructure