Axons, but not cell bodies, are activated by electrical stimulation in cortical gray matter. II. Evidence from selective inactivation of cell bodies and axon initial segments

Exp Brain Res. 1998 Feb;118(4):489-500. doi: 10.1007/s002210050305.


The results presented in the companion paper showed that extracellular electrical stimulation of the gray matter directly activates axons, but not cell bodies. The second set of experiments presented here was designed to separate the contribution of the axon initial segments and cell bodies from that of the axonal branches to the pool of presynaptic neuronal elements activated by electrical stimulation. For that purpose, N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) iontophoresis was used to induce a selective inactivation of the cell body and of the adjoining portion of the axon by depolarization block, without affecting axonal branches that lack NMDA receptors. After NMDA iontophoresis, the neurons located near the iontophoresis electrode became unable to generate action potentials in an irreversible manner. When the NMDA-induced depolarization block was performed at the site of electrical stimulation, an unexpected increase in the amplitude of the orthodromic responses was observed. Several control experiments suggested that the field potential increase was due to changes of the local environment in the vicinity of the iontophoresis pipette, which led to an increased excitability of the axons. After the period of superexcitability, the orthodromic responses displayed an amplitude that was 15-20% lower than that observed before the NMDA-induced depolarization block, even though cell bodies and axon initial segment at the site of stimulation could not be activated by electrical stimulation. This result shows a low contribution for axon initial segments to the pool of neuronal elements activated by the electrical stimulation. Altogether, these experiments demonstrate that the postsynaptic responses obtained after electrical stimulation of the cortical gray matter result almost exclusively from the activation of axonal branches. Since the neocortex is organised as a network of local and long-range reciprocal connections, great attention must be paid to the interpretation of data obtained with electrical stimulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / drug effects
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electrophysiology
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Agonists / administration & dosage
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Agonists / pharmacology
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / drug effects
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology
  • Female
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Iontophoresis
  • Male
  • Microelectrodes
  • N-Methylaspartate / administration & dosage
  • N-Methylaspartate / pharmacology
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Visual Cortex / cytology*
  • Visual Cortex / drug effects
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*


  • Excitatory Amino Acid Agonists
  • N-Methylaspartate