There is increasing evidence that heat shock (HS) has long-term effects on electrophysiological properties of neurons and synapses. Prior HS protects neural circuitry from a subsequent heat stress but little is known about the mechanisms that mediate this plasticity and induce thermotolerance. Exposure of Locusta migratoria to HS conditions of 45 degrees C for 3 h results in thermotolerance to hitherto lethal temperatures. Locust flight motor patterns were recorded during tethered flight at room temperature, before and after HS. In addition, intracellular action potentials (APs) were recorded from control and HS motoneurons in a semi-intact preparation during a heat stress. HS did not alter the timing of representative depressor or elevator muscle activity, nor did it affect the ability of the locust to generate a steering motor pattern in response to a stimulus. However, HS did increase the duration of APs recorded from neuropil segments of depressor motoneurons. Increases in AP duration were associated with protection of AP generation against failure at subsequent elevated temperatures. Failure of AP generation at high temperatures was preceded by a concomitant burst of APs and depolarization of the membrane. The protective effects of HS were mimicked by pharmacological blockade of I(K+) with tetraethylammonium (TEA). Taken together, these findings are consistent with a hypothesis that HS protects neuronal survival and function via K+ channel modulation.
Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.