ABSTRACT: Blockade of neuromuscular activity in the chick embryo during the period of programmed cell death of motoneurons results in a complete rescue of these cells. Understanding the cellular mechanisms that mediate this counterintuitive effect is of considerable interest with respect to the regulation of motoneuron survival during development as well as for understanding why motoneurons die pathologically. Although considerable evidence supports the role of a peripheral site of action at the neuromuscular junction in mediating the rescue of motoneurons following activity blockade, some evidence also supports a role for central nervous system (CNS) neurons. For example, the rescue of motoneurons by curare has been reported to be blocked by the GABA(A) agonist muscimol via its actions on CNS neurons. We have carried out a series of studies to further investigate this interesting observation. Surprisingly, we find that: (1) muscimol blocks activity and rescues MNs in a dose-dependent manner, similar to curare; (2) muscimol's effects on MN survival appear to be mediated by its action on intramuscular nerve branching, similar to curare; and (3) although muscimol acts centrally, the effects of muscimol on MN survival and axon branching are mediated peripherally at the neuromuscular junction, similar to curare. Because muscimol reduces MN depolarization these data also suggest that the depolarization of MNs by afferents is not required for promoting MN survival. Taken together, these data provide further evidence in support of a peripheral site of action of activity blockade in rescuing motoneurons from developmental cell death.
Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience 04/2003; 22(3):331-43. · 3.66 Impact Factor