Fast inhibitory synapses: Targets for neuromodulation and development of vertebrate motor behaviour

Keith T. Sillar, David L. McLean, Hanno Fischer, Simon D. Merrywest

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

29 Scopus citations


Locomotor networks must possess the inherent flexibility to adapt their output. In this review we discuss evidence from a simple vertebrate locomotor network that suggests fast inhibitory synapses are important targets for the forms of neuromodulation that afford this flexibility. Two important inhibitory transmitters, glycine and GABA, are present in the CNS of Xenopus tadpoles, where they each play distinct roles in the control of swimming. Glycine, but not GABA, contributes to the inhibitory mid-cycle component of each swim-cycle, the strength of which determines the frequency of swimming. Meanwhile, GABA release onto the swim network prematurely terminates swimming episodes. Hence, glycine controls how fast, whilst GABA controls how far the tadpole swims. Our work has focused on how the amines serotonin (5-HT) and noradrenaline (NA), and more recently the gas nitric oxide (NO), selectively target glycine and GABA release in the spinal cord to modulate swimming. In particular, we have identified three brainstem populations of nitrergic neurons, which suggests that nitric oxide may co-localise with 5-HT, NA and GABA. Here we review this work and suggest a hierarchy of brainstem modulatory systems, with NO acting as a metamodulator.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)130-140
Number of pages11
JournalBrain Research Reviews
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Oct 2002


  • GABA
  • Glycine
  • Neuromodulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Neurology

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