Persistent inward currents in spinal motoneurons and their influence on human motoneuron firing patterns

C. J. Heckman, Michael Johnson, Carol Mottram, Jenna Schuster

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

168 Scopus citations


Persistent inward currents (PICs) are present in many types of neurons and likely have diverse functions. In spinal motoneurons, PICs are especially strong, primarily located in dendritic regions, and subject to particularly strong neuromodulation by the monoamines serotonin and norepinephrine. Because motoneurons drive muscle fibers, it has been possible to study the functional role of their PICs in motor output and to identify PIC-mediated effects on motoneuron firing patterns in human subjects. The PIC markedly amplifies synaptic input, up to fivefold or more, depending on the level of monoaminergic input. PICs also tend to greatly prolong input time course, allowing brief inputs to initiate long-lasting self-sustained firing (i.e., bistable behavior). PIC deactivation usually requires inhibitory input and PIC amplitude can increase to repeated activation. All of these behaviors markedly increase motoneuron excitability. Thus, in the absence of monoaminergic input, motoneuron excitability is very low. Yet PICs have another effect: once active, they tend to sharply limit efficacy of additional synaptic input. All of these PIC effects have been detected in motoneuron firing patterns in human subjects and, hence, PICs are likely a fundamental component of normal motor output.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)264-275
Number of pages12
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2008


  • Electrophysiology
  • Motor unit
  • Neuromodulation
  • Norepinephrine
  • Serotonin
  • Spinal neuron

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Neurology


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