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Structural And Functional Alterations In Rat Corticospinal Neurons After Axotomy

G. F. Tseng, D. A. Prince

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1. The electrophysiological properties of rat corticospinal neurons (CSNs) were studied 3, 9, and 12 mo after axotomy in the cervical spinal cord, with the use of a combination of the in vitro neocortical slice technique, intracellular recordings, and a double-labeling method that allowed identification of CSNs studied in vitro. 2. CSNs retained the rhodamine-labeled microspheres employed as a retrograde marker and were functionally active in the longest survival group (1 yr). 3. The somatic area of axotomized CSNs became progressively smaller, a reduction that amounted to 37% for all cells at 1 yr. There were no obvious differences between normal and axotomized cells in terms of apical dendritic widths, numbers of apical dendritic branches, or basal dendritic arbors. Intracortical axonal arborizations of axotomized neurons were in general similar to those of normal CSNs in that most axons ended in layers V and VI with only occasional collaterals reaching supragranular layers. 4. Axotomized CSNs were grouped according to their spike firing patterns during depolarizing current pulses so that their electrophysiological behavior could be compared with that of regular spiking and adapting groups of normal CSNs. No significant differences were found in resting membrane potential, or spike parameters between axotomized neurons in any survival group and normal controls. Neurons surviving 1 yr after axotomy had a higher input resistance (RN) than normal CSNs. There was a reduction in the percentage of CSNs that generated prominent spike depolarizing afterpotentials in the axotomized group. 5. The steady-state relationship between spike frequency and applied current (f-I slope) became steeper over time and was significantly greater 9 mo after axotomy in regular spiking (RS) and adapting neurons than in normal CSNs in the same groups. The increase in steady-state f-I slope was in part related to increases in the RN of axotomized neurons. 6. There was a significant decrease in the generation of slow afterhyperpolarizations following trains of spikes in axotomized versus normal RS neurons, first detected at 3 mo and also present in 9 mo and 1 yr survival groups. 7. Biphasic inhibitory postsynaptic potentials (IPSPs) were evoked in only 1 of 11 axotomized neurons in the 3-mo group, 2 of 12 cells examined at 9 mo, and 3 of 15 neurons 1 yr after axotomy. The proportions of neurons generating IPSPs were significantly smaller than in comparable groups of control CSNs. As a consequence, longer duration evoked excitatory postsynaptic potentials were generated by axotomized CSNs. 8. Results show that axotomized CSNs undergo alterations in intrinsic membrane properties and inhibitory synaptic electrogenesis that would tend to make them more responsive to excitatory inputs.