Synaptic integration in motoneurons with hyperexcitable dendrites

C. J. Heckman*, Jason J. Kuo, Michael D. Johnson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Motoneurons have extensive dendritic trees that receive the numerous inputs required to produce movement. These dendrites are highly active, containing voltage-sensitive channels that generate persistent inward currents (PICs) that can enhance synaptic input 5-fold or more. However, this enhancement is proportional to the level of activity of monoaminergic inputs from the brainstem that release serotonin and noradrenalin. The higher this activity, the larger the dendritic PIC and the higher the firing rate evoked by a given amount of excitatory synaptic input. This brainstem control of motoneuron input-output gain translates directly into control of system gain of a motor pool and its muscle. Because large dendritic PICs are probably necessary for motoneurons to have sufficient gain to generate large forces, it is possible that descending monoaminergic inputs scale in proportion to voluntary force. Inhibition from sensory inputs has a strong suppressive effect on dendritic PICs: the stronger the inhibition, the smaller the PIC. Thus, local inhibitory inputs within the cord may oppose the descending monoaminergic control of PICs. Most motor behaviors evoke a mixture of excitation and inhibition (e.g., the reciprocal inhibition between antagonists). Therefore, normal joint movements may involve constant adjustment of PIC amplitude.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)549-555
Number of pages7
JournalCanadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology
Issue number8-9
StatePublished - Aug 2004


  • Motoneuron
  • Neuromodulation
  • Norepinephrine
  • Persistent inward current
  • Serotonin
  • Spinal cord

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physiology (medical)


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