Immediately after spinal cord injury (SCI), a devastating paralysis results from the loss of brain stem and cortical innervation of spinal neurons that control movement, including a loss of serotonergic (5-HT) innervation of motoneurons. Over time, motoneurons recover from denervation and function autonomously, exhibiting large persistent calcium currents (Ca PICs) that both help with functional recovery and contribute to uncontrolled muscle spasms. Here we systematically evaluated which 5-HT receptor subtypes influence PICs and spasms after injury. Spasms were quantified by recording the long-lasting reflexes (LLRs) on ventral roots in response to dorsal root stimulation, in the chronic spinal rat, in vitro. Ca PICs were quantified by intracellular recording in synaptically isolated motoneurons. Application of agonists selective to 5-HT2B and 5-HT2C receptors (including BW723C86) significantly increased the LLRs and associated Ca PICs, whereas application of agonists to 5-HT1, 5-HT2A, 5-HT3, or 5-HT 4/5/6/7 receptors (e.g., 8-OH-DPAT) did not. The 5-HT2 receptor agonist-induced increases in LLRs were dose dependent, with doses for 50% effects (EC50) highly correlated with published doses for agonist receptor binding (Ki) at 5-HT2B and 5-HT2C receptors. Application of selective antagonists to 5-HT2B (e.g., RS127445) and 5-HT2C (SB242084) receptors inhibited the agonist-induced increase in LLR. However, antagonists that are known to specifically be neutral antagonists at 5-HT2B/C receptors (e.g., RS127445) had no effect when given by themselves, indicating that these receptors were not activated by residual 5-HT in the spinal cord. In contrast, inverse agonists (such as SB206553) that block constitutive activity at 5-HT2B or 5-HT2C receptors markedly reduced the LLRs, indicating the presence of constitutive activity in these receptors. 5-HT 2B or 5-HT2C receptors were confirmed to be on motoneurons by immunolabeling. In summary, 5-HT2B and 5-HT2C receptors on motoneurons become constitutively active after injury and ultimately contribute to recovery of motoneuron function and emergence of spasms.
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