Multiple firing patterns in deep dorsal horn neurons of the spinal cord: computational analysis of mechanisms and functional implications

J Neurophysiol. 2010 Oct;104(4):1978-96. doi: 10.1152/jn.00919.2009. Epub 2010 Jul 28.


Deep dorsal horn relay neurons (dDHNs) of the spinal cord are known to exhibit multiple firing patterns under the control of local metabotropic neuromodulation: tonic firing, plateau potential, and spontaneous oscillations. This work investigates the role of interactions between voltage-gated channels and the occurrence of different firing patterns and then correlates these two phenomena with their functional role in sensory information processing. We designed a conductance-based model using the NEURON software package, which successfully reproduced the classical features of plateau in dDHNs, including a wind-up of the neuronal response after repetitive stimulation. This modeling approach allowed us to systematically test the impact of conductance interactions on the firing patterns. We found that the expression of multiple firing patterns can be reproduced by changes in the balance between two currents (L-type calcium and potassium inward rectifier conductances). By investigating a possible generalization of the firing state switch, we found that the switch can also occur by varying the balance of any hyperpolarizing and depolarizing conductances. This result extends the control of the firing switch to neuromodulators or to network effects such as synaptic inhibition. We observed that the switch between the different firing patterns occurs as a continuous function in the model, revealing a particular intermediate state called the accelerating mode. To characterize the functional effect of a firing switch on information transfer, we used correlation analysis between a model of peripheral nociceptive afference and the dDHN model. The simulation results indicate that the accelerating mode was the optimal firing state for information transfer.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Calcium Signaling / physiology
  • Computational Biology / methods*
  • Electric Conductivity
  • Haplorhini
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Posterior Horn Cells / physiology*
  • Software
  • Spinal Cord / cytology
  • Spinal Cord / physiology
  • alpha-Amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic Acid / pharmacology


  • alpha-Amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic Acid