Acute neurotoxicant exposure induces hyperexcitability in mouse lumbar spinal motor neurons

Michael P. Sceniak, Jake B. Spitsbergen, Shasta L. Sabo, Yukun Yuan, William D. Atchison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations

Abstract

Spinal motor neurons (MNs) are susceptible to glutamatergic excitotoxicity, an effect associated with lumbar MN degeneration in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). MN susceptibility to environmental toxicant exposure, one prospective contributor to sporadic ALS, has not been systematically studied. The goal of this study was to test the ability of a well-known environmental neurotoxicant to induce hyperexcitability in mouse lumbar MNs. Methylmercury (MeHg) causes neurotoxicity through mechanisms involving elevated intracellular Ca2+ concentration ([Ca2+]i), a hallmark of excitotoxicity. We tested whether acute exposure to MeHg induces hyperexcitability in MNs by altering synaptic transmission, using whole cell patch-clamp recordings of lumbar spinal MNs in vitro. Acute MeHg exposure (20 μM) led to an increase in the frequency of both spontaneous excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) and miniature EPSCs. The frequency of inhibitory postsynaptic currents (IPSCs) was also increased by MeHg. Action potential firing rates, both spontaneous and evoked, were increased by MeHg, despite increases in both EPSCs and IPSCs, indicating a shift toward hyperexcitability. Also consistent with hyperexcitability, fluo 4-AM microfluorimetry indicated that MeHg exposure induced an increase in [Ca2+]i. Spinal cord hyperexcitability is partially mediated by Ca2+-permeable AMPA receptors, as MeHg-dependent increases in EPSCs were blocked by 1-napthyl spermine. Therefore, spinal MNs appear highly susceptible to MeHg exposure, leading to significant increases in spontaneous network excitability and disruption of normal function. Prolonged hyperexcitability could lead to eventual neurodegeneration and loss of motor function as observed in spinal cord after MeHg exposure in vivo and may contribute to MeHg-induced acceleration of ALS symptoms. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Spinal motor neurons (MN) are susceptible to glutamatergic excitotoxicity, an effect associated with lumbar MN degeneration in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). This study investigated MN susceptibility to environmental toxicant exposure, one prospective contributor to sporadic ALS. Spinal MNs appear highly susceptible to methylmercury exposure, leading to significant increases in spontaneous network excitability and disruption of normal function. Prolonged hyperexcitability could lead to neurodegeneration and loss of motor function as observed in ALS spinal cord symptoms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1448-1459
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Volume123
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2020

Keywords

  • Excitotoxicity
  • Glutamate
  • Methylmercury
  • Motor neuron
  • Spinal cord

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