Distinct and developmentally regulated activity-dependent plasticity at descending glutamatergic synapses on flexor and extensor motoneurons

Sci Rep. 2016 Jun 22;6:28522. doi: 10.1038/srep28522.


Activity-dependent synaptic plasticity (ADSP) is paramount to synaptic processing and maturation. However, identifying the ADSP capabilities of the numerous synapses converging onto spinal motoneurons (MNs) remain elusive. Using spinal cord slices from mice at two developmental stages, 1-4 and 8-12 postnatal days (P1-P4; P8-P12), we found that high-frequency stimulation of presumed reticulospinal neuron axons in the ventrolateral funiculus (VLF) induced either an NMDA receptor-dependent-long-term depression (LTD), a short-term depression (STD) or no synaptic modulation in limb MNs. Our study shows that P1-P4 cervical MNs expressed the same plasticity profiles as P8-P12 lumbar MNs rather than P1-P4 lumbar MNs indicating that ADSP expression at VLF-MN synapses is linked to the rostrocaudal development of spinal motor circuitry. Interestingly, we observed that the ADSP expressed at VLF-MN was related to the functional flexor or extensor MN subtype. Moreover, heterosynaptic plasticity was triggered in MNs by VLF axon tetanisation at neighbouring synapses not directly involved in the plasticity induction. ADSP at VLF-MN synapses specify differential integrative synaptic processing by flexor and extensor MNs and could contribute to the maturation of spinal motor circuits and developmental acquisition of weight-bearing locomotion.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Female
  • Glutamates / physiology
  • Locomotion / physiology
  • Long-Term Synaptic Depression / physiology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / physiology
  • Spinal Cord / cytology
  • Spinal Cord / growth & development
  • Spinal Cord / physiology
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Weight-Bearing / physiology


  • Glutamates
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate