Sensitivity of spinal neurons to GABA and glycine during voluntary movement in behaving monkeys

J Neurophysiol. 2013 Jan;109(1):193-201. doi: 10.1152/jn.01081.2011. Epub 2012 Oct 17.


GABAergic and glycinergic inhibition play key roles in the function of spinal motor pathways. However, there is little direct information on the extent to which inhibition controls the activity of spinal neurons during behavior or the relative effectiveness of GABA and glycine on cell activity under normal conditions. These issues were investigated in three macaque monkeys trained to perform voluntary ramp-and-hold wrist movements and grip. Pipettes with an extracellular recording electrode and iontophoresis barrels were used to eject GABA, glycine, and/or their respective antagonists, bicuculline and strychnine, as the activity of single neurons was recorded in the C6-T1 spinal segments during hand movements. The firing rate of the vast majority of neurons decreased when an inhibitory neurotransmitter was ejected from the electrode, suggesting that most movement-related spinal neurons are sensitive to both GABA and glycine. Most movement-related neurons exhibited increased activity during iontophoresis of an antagonist, suggesting that both GABAergic and glycinergic inhibition actively regulate the majority of spinal neurons during movement. These conclusions were supported by the responses of neurons tested with both agonists or both antagonists. Bicuculline and strychnine produced the largest increases in firing rate during dynamic movements (ramp phase), smaller increases during maintained torque/force (hold phase), and the smallest increase during the rest period. Since excitatory inputs also tend to increase progressively from rest to static to dynamic muscle contractions, this result is consistent with coupled excitatory and inhibitory inputs to spinal neurons during movement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / drug effects
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Bicuculline / pharmacology
  • GABA-A Receptor Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Glycine / pharmacology*
  • Glycine Agents / pharmacology
  • Macaca nemestrina
  • Male
  • Movement / drug effects*
  • Neural Inhibition / drug effects
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Spinal Cord / drug effects
  • Strychnine / pharmacology
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / pharmacology*


  • GABA-A Receptor Antagonists
  • Glycine Agents
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Strychnine
  • Glycine
  • Bicuculline