The distribution and physiological roles of nitric oxide in the locomotor circuitry of the mammalian spinal cord
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The mammalian spinal cord contains the neuronal circuitry necessary to generate rhythmic locomotor activity in the absence of inputs from the higher brain centre or sensory system. This circuitry is regulated by local neuromodulatory inputs, which can adjust the strength and timing of locomotor output. The free radical gas nitric oxide has been shown to act as an important neuromodulator of spinal circuits, which control locomotion in other vertebrate models such as the tadpole and lamprey. Despite this, the involvement of the NO-mediated soluble guanylate cyclase/cyclic guanosine monophosphate secondary messenger-signalling pathway (NO/sGC/cGMP) in mammalian locomotion has largely been under-investigated. The NADPH diaphorase histochemical reaction was used to identify sources of NO in the lumbar spinal cord. The largest population NADPH diaphorase reactive neurons were located in the dorsal horn, followed by the laminae of the ventral horn, particularly around the central canal (lamina X) and lamina VII. NADPH diaphorase reactive neurons were found along a rostrocaudal gradient between lumbar segments L1 to L5. These results show that that discrete neuronal sources of NO are present in the developing mouse spinal cord, and that these cells increase in number during the developmental period postnatal day P1 – P12. NADPH diaphorase was subsequently used to identify NADPH diaphorase reactive neurons at P12 in the mouse model of ALS using the SODG93A transgenic mouse. Physiological recordings of ventral root output were made to assess the contribution of NO to the regulation induced rhythmic fictive locomotion in the in vitro isolated spinal cord preparation. Exogenous NO inhibits central pattern generator (CPG) output while facilitating and inhibiting motor neuron output at low and high concentrations respectively. Removal of endogenous NO increases CPG output while decreasing motor neuron output and these effects are mediated by cGMP. These data suggest that an endogenous tone of NO is involved in the regulation of fictive locomotion and that this involves the NO/sGC/cGMP pathway. Intracellular recordings from presumed motor neurons and a heterogeneous, unidentified sample of interneurons shows that NO modulates the intrinsic properties of spinal neurons. These data suggest that the net effect of NO appears to be a reduction in motor neuron excitability.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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