Shaping the output of lumbar flexor motoneurons by sacral neuronal networks

Meir Cherniak, Lili Anglister, Aharon Lev-Tov*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The ability to improve motor function in spinal cord injury patients by reactivating spinal central pattern generators (CPGs) requires the elucidation of neurons and pathways involved in activation and modulation of spinal networks in accessible experimental models. Previously we reported on adrenoceptor-dependent sacral control of lumbar flexor motoneuron firing in newborn rats. The current work focuses on clarification of the circuitry and connectivity involved in this unique modulation and its potential use. Using surgical manipulations of the spinal gray and white matter, electrophysiological recordings, and confocal microscopy mapping, we found that methoxamine (METH) activation of sacral networks within the ventral aspect of S2 segments was sufficient to produce alternating rhythmic bursting (0.15-1 Hz) in lumbar flexor motoneurons. This lumbar rhythm depended on continuity of the ventral funiculus (VF) along the S2-L2 segments. Interrupting the VF abolished the rhythm and replaced it by slow unstable bursting. Calcium imaging of S1-S2 neurons, back-labeled via the VF, revealed that~40% responded to METH, mostly by rhythmic firing. All uncrossed projecting METH responders and~70% of crossed projecting METH responders fired with the concurrent ipsilateral motor output, while the rest (~30%) fired with the contralateral motor output. We suggest that METH-activated sacral CPGs excite ventral clusters of sacral VF neurons to deliver the ascending drive required for direct rhythmic activation of lumbar flexor motoneurons. The capacity of noradrenergic-activated sacral CPGs to modulate the activity of lumbar networks via sacral VF neurons provides a novel way to recruit rostral lumbar moto neurons and modulate the output required to execute various motor behaviors.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1294-1311
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 the authors.


  • Adrenoceptors
  • Ascending pathways
  • Calcium imaging
  • Central pattern generators
  • Sacrocaudal afferents
  • Spinal interneurons


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