Amphetamine increases persistent inward currents in human motoneurons estimated from paired motor-unit activity

Esther Udina, Jessica D'Amico, Austin J. Bergquist, Monica A. Gorassini

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30 Citations (Scopus)


Recruitment and repetitive firing of spinal motoneurons depend on the activation of persistent inward calcium and sodium currents (PICs) that are in turn facilitated by serotonin and norepinephrine that arise primarily from the brain stem. Considering that in rats motoneuron PICs are greatly facilitated by increasing the presynaptic release of norepinephrine with amphetamine, we sought similar evidence for the modulation of PICs in human motoneurons. Pairs of motor units were recorded during a gradually increasing and then decreasing voluntary contraction. The firing frequency (F) of the lower-threshold (control) motor unit was used as an estimate of the synaptic input to the higher-threshold (test) motor unit. Generally, PICs are initiated during the recruitment of a motoneuron and subsequently provide a fixed depolarizing current that helps the synaptic input maintain firing until derecruitment. Thus the amplitude of the PIC in the test motor unit was estimated from the difference in synaptic input (ΔF) needed to maintain minimal firing once the PIC was fully activated (measured at the time of test unit derecruitment) compared with the larger synaptic input required to initiate firing prior to full PIC activation (measured at the time of test unit recruitment; ΔF = Frecruit - Fderecruit). Moreover, the activation time of the PIC was estimated as the minimal contraction duration needed to produce a maximal PIC (ΔF). In five subjects, oral administration of amphetamine, but not placebo, increased the ΔF by 62% [from 3.7 ± 0.6 to 6.0 ± 0.8 (SD) imp/s, P = 0.001] and decreased the time needed to activate a maximal ΔF from ∼2 to 0.5 s. Both findings suggest that the endogenous facilitation of PICs from brain stem derived norepinephrine plays an important role in modulating human motoneuron excitability, readying motoneurons for rapid and sustained activity during periods of high arousal such as stress or fear. © 2010 The American Physiological Society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1295-1303
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2010


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