Mechanisms of spontaneous activity in the developing spinal cord and their relevance to locomotion

Michael J. O'Donovan, P. Wenner, N. Chub, J. Tabak, J. Rinzel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The isolated lumbosacral cord of the chick embryo generates spontaneous episodes of rhythmic activity. Muscle nerve recordings show that the discharge of sartorius (flexor) and femorotibialis (extensor) motoneurons alternates even though the motoneurons are depolarized simultaneously during each cycle. The alternation occurs because sartorius motoneuron firing is shunted or voltage-clamped by its synaptic drive at the time of peak femorotibialis discharge. Ablation experiments have identified a region dorsomedial to the lateral motor column that may be required for the alternation of sartorius and femorotibialis motoneurons. This region overlaps the location of interneurons activated by ventral root stimulation. Whole-cell recordings from interneurons receiving short latency ventral root input indicate that they fire at an appropriate time to contribute to the cyclical pause in firing of sartorius motoneurons. Spontaneous activity was modeled by the interaction of three variables: network activity and two activity-dependent forms of network depression. A 'slow' depression which regulates the occurrence of episodes and a 'fast' depression that controls cycling during an episode. The model successfully predicts several aspects of spinal network behavior including spontaneous rhythmic activity and the recovery of network activity following blockade of excitatory synaptic transmission.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)130-141
Number of pages12
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
StatePublished - 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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