In a neuronal population, several combinations of its ionic conductances are used to attain a specific firing phenotype. Some neurons present heterogeneity in their firing, generally produced by expression of a specific conductance, but how additional conductances vary along in order to homeostatically regulate membrane excitability is less known. Dorsal cochlear nucleus principal neurons, fusiform neurons, display heterogeneous spontaneous action potential activity and thus represent an appropriate model to study the role of different conductances in establishing firing heterogeneity. Particularly, fusiform neurons are divided into quiet, with no spontaneous firing, or active neurons, presenting spontaneous, regular firing. These modes are determined by the expression levels of an intrinsic membrane conductance, an inwardly rectifying potassium current (IKir). In this work, we tested whether other subthreshold conductances vary homeostatically to maintain membrane excitability constant across the two subtypes. We found that Ih expression covaries specifically with IKir in order to maintain membrane resistance constant. The impact of Ih on membrane resistance is dependent on the level of IKir expression, being much smaller in quiet neurons with bigger IKir, but Ih variations are not relevant for creating the quiet and active phenotypes. Finally, we demonstrate that the individual proportion of each conductance, and not their absolute conductance, is relevant for determining the neuronal firing mode. We conclude that in fusiform neurons the variations of their different subthreshold conductances are limited to specific conductances in order to create firing heterogeneity and maintain membrane homeostasis.
Keywords: cochlear nucleus; membrane resistance; subthreshold conductances.