Hindlimb unweighting for 2 weeks alters physiological properties of rat hindlimb motoneurones

J Physiol. 2005 Nov 1;568(Pt 3):841-50. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2005.091835. Epub 2005 Aug 25.


We sought to determine whether decreased neuromuscular use in the form of hindlimb unweighting (HU) would affect the properties of innervating motoneurones. Hindlimb weight-bearing was removed in rats for a period of 2 weeks via hindlimb suspension by the tail. Following this the electrophysiological properties of tibial motoneurones were recorded under anaesthesia in situ. After HU, motoneurones had significantly (P < 0.05) elevated rheobase currents, lower antidromic spike amplitudes, lower afterhyperpolarization (AHP) amplitudes, faster membrane time constants, lower cell capacitances, and depolarized spike thresholds. Frequency-current (f-I) relationships were shifted significantly to the right (i.e. more current required to obtain a given firing frequency), although there was no change in f-I slopes. 'Slow' motoneurones (AHP half-decay times, > 20 ms) were unchanged in proportions in HU compared to weight-bearing rats. Slow motoneurones had significantly lower minimum firing frequencies and minimum currents necessary for rhythmic firing than 'fast' motoneurones in weight-bearing rats; these differences were lost in HU rats, where slow motoneurones resembled fast motoneurones in these properties. In a five-compartment motoneurone model with ion conductances incorporated to resemble firing behaviour in vivo, most of the changes in passive and rhythmic firing properties could be reproduced by reducing sodium conductance by 25% and 15% in the initial segment and soma, respectively, or by increasing potassium conductance by 55% and 42%, respectively. This supports previous conclusions that changes in chronic neuromuscular activity, either an increase or decrease, may result in physiological adaptations in motoneurones due to chronic changes in ion conductances.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Animals
  • Differential Threshold / physiology
  • Female
  • Hindlimb Suspension / methods*
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*