The Spinal Cord Has an Intrinsic System for the Control of pH

Curr Biol. 2016 May 23;26(10):1346-51. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.03.048. Epub 2016 Apr 28.


For survival of the organism, acid-base homeostasis is vital [1, 2]. The respiratory and renal systems are central to this control. Here we describe a novel mechanism, intrinsic to the spinal cord, with sensors that detect pH changes and act to restore pH to physiological levels by reducing motor activity. This pH sensor consists of somatostatin-expressing cerebrospinal fluid-contacting (CSF-c) neurons, which target the locomotor network. They have a low level of activity at pH 7.4. However, at both alkaline and acidic pH, the activity of the individual CSF-c neuron is markedly enhanced through the action of two separate channel subtypes. The alkaline response depends on PKD2L1 channels that have a large conductance and an equilibrium potential around 0 mV, both characteristics of mouse PKD2L1 channels [3-5]. The acidic response is due to an activation of ASIC3 [6]. The discharge pattern of the CSF-c neurons is U-shaped with a minimum frequency around pH 7.4 and a marked increase already at slightly lower and higher pH. During ongoing locomotor activity in the isolated spinal cord, both an increase and as a decrease of pH will reduce the locomotor burst rate. A somatostatin antagonist blocks these effects, suggesting that CSF-c neurons are responsible for the suppression of locomotor activity. CSF-c neurons thus represent a novel innate homeostatic mechanism, designed to sense any deviation from physiological pH and to respond by causing a depression of the motor activity. Because CSF-c neurons are found in all vertebrates, their pH-sensing function is most likely conserved.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium Channels / genetics
  • Calcium Channels / metabolism
  • Female
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Lampreys / physiology*
  • Locomotion*
  • Male
  • Membrane Potentials
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / genetics
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / metabolism
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Spinal Cord / physiology*


  • Calcium Channels
  • Receptors, Cell Surface