Axon initial segment plasticity accompanies enhanced excitation of visual cortical neurons in aged rats

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Abstract

Recent studies have indicated that the structure of the axon initial segment (AIS) of neurons is highly plastic in response to changes in neuronal activity. Whether an age-related enhancement of neuronal responses in the visual cortex is coupled with plasticity of AISs is unknown. Here, we compare the AIS length and the distribution of Nav1.6, a key Na+ ion channel in action potential (AP) initiation, along the AIS of layer II/III neurons in the primary visual cortex (V1) of young adult and aged rats, which were examined previously in a single-unit recording study. In that study, we found that V1 neurons in aged rats showed a significantly higher spontaneous activity and stronger visually evoked responses than did neurons in young rats. Our present study shows that the mean AIS length of layer II/III neurons in the V1 area of aged rats was significantly shorter than that of young adult rats. Further, the proportion of AIS with the Nav1.6 distribution was also reduced significantly in aged rats relative to young rats, as indicated by a decrease in the mean Nav1.6 immunofluorescence optical density within AISs and a specific decrease in Nav1.6 immunofluorescence optical density near the proximal region of the AIS. Our results indicate that aging results in both shortening of AISs and reduction of Nav1.6 Na+ ion channel distribution along AISs, which accompanies enhanced neuronal activity. This age-related morphological plasticity may lower the AP amplitude by reducing Na+ ion entry during AP initiation, spare ATPs consumed by Na+ ion pumps during membrane potential restoration, and thus balance the energy expenditure caused by an increased firing rate of cortical neurons during the aging process.

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