Adjustable amplification of synaptic input in the dendrites of spinal motoneurons in vivo

Robert H. Lee, C. J. Heckman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

195 Scopus citations


The impact of neuromodulators on active dendritic conductances was investigated by the use of intracellular recording techniques in spinal motoneurons in the adult cat. The well known lack of voltage control of dendritic regions during voltage clamp applied at the soma was used to estimate dendritic amplification of a steady monosynaptic input generated by muscle spindle Ia afferents. In preparations deeply anesthetized with pentobarbital, Ia current either decreased with depolarization or underwent a modest increase at membrane potentials above -40 mV. In unanesthetized decerebrate preparations (which have tonic activity in axons originating in the brainstem and releasing serotonin or norepinephrine), active dendritic currents caused strong amplification of Ia input. In the range of -50 to -40 mV, peak la current was over four times as large as that in the pentobarbital-anesthetized preparations. Exogenous administration of a noradrenergic agonist in addition to the tonic activity further enhanced amplification (sixfold increase). Amplification was not seen in preparations with spinal transections. Overall, the dendritic amplification with moderate or strong neuromodulatory drive was estimated to be large enough to allow the motoneurons innervating slow muscle fibers to be driven to their maximum force levels by remarkably small synaptic inputs. In these cells, the main role of synaptic input may be to control the activation of a highly excitable dendritic tree. The neuromodulatory control of synaptic amplification provides motor commands with the potential to adjust the level of amplification to suit the demands of different motor tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6734-6740
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 1 2000


  • Bistable
  • Dendritic amplification
  • Electrophysiology
  • Motoneuron
  • Neuromodulation
  • Norepinephrine
  • Plateau potential
  • Serotonin
  • Spinal cord

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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