Following cervical spinal cord injury at C2 (SH hemisection model) there is progressive recovery of phrenic activity. Neuroplasticity in the postsynaptic expression of neurotransmitter receptors may contribute to functional recovery. Phrenic motoneurons express multiple serotonergic (5-HTR) and glutamatergic (GluR) receptors, but the timing and possible role of these different neurotransmitter receptor subtypes in the neuroplasticity following SH are not clear. The current study was designed to test the hypothesis that there is an increased expression of serotonergic and glutamatergic neurotransmitter receptors within phrenic motoneurons after SH. In adult male rats, phrenic motoneurons were labeled retrogradely by intrapleural injection of Alexa 488-conjugated cholera toxin B. In thin (10 μm) frozen sections of the spinal cord, fluorescently-labeled phrenic motoneurons were visualized for laser capture microdissection (LCM). Using quantitative real-time RT-PCR in LCM samples, the time course of changes in 5-HTR and GluR mRNA expression was determined in phrenic motoneurons up to 21 days post-SH. Expression of 5-HTR subtypes 1b, 2a and 2c and GluR subtypes AMPA, NMDA, mGluR1 and mGluR5 was evident in phrenic motoneurons from control and SH rats. Phrenic motoneuron expression of 5-HTR2a increased ˜8-fold (relative to control) at 14 days post-SH, whereas NMDA expression increased ˜16-fold by 21-days post-SH. There were no other significant changes in receptor expression at any time post-SH. This is the first study to systematically document changes in motoneuron expression of multiple neurotransmitter receptors involved in regulation of motoneuron excitability. By providing information on the neuroplasticity of receptors expressed in a motoneuron pool that is inactivated by a higher-level spinal cord injury, appropriate pharmacological targets can be identified to alter motoneuron excitability.Highlights
▸ Motoneuron neurotransmitter receptor mRNA levels increase after spinal cord injury. ▸ Serotonergic 5-HTR2a receptors increase ˜8-fold 14 days post-C2 hemisection. ▸ Glutamatergic NMDA receptors increase ˜16 fold by 21 days post-C2 hemisection. ▸ Motoneuron expression of 5-HTR2a and 5-HTR2c receptors is positively correlated. ▸ Motoneuron expression of AMPA and NMDA receptors is negatively correlated.