Cholinergic Modulation of Locomotor Circuits in Vertebrates

Didier Le Ray, Sandrine S. Bertrand, Réjean Dubuc
IJMS. 2022-09-14; 23(18): 10738
DOI: 10.3390/ijms231810738

Locomotion is a basic motor act essential for survival. Amongst other things, it allows animals to move in their environment to seek food, escape predators, or seek mates for reproduction. The neural mechanisms involved in the control of locomotion have been examined in many vertebrate species and a clearer picture is progressively emerging. The basic muscle synergies responsible for propulsion are generated by neural networks located in the spinal cord. In turn, descending supraspinal inputs are responsible for starting, maintaining, and stopping locomotion as well as for steering and controlling speed. Several neurotransmitter systems play a crucial role in modulating the neural activity during locomotion. For instance, cholinergic inputs act both at the spinal and supraspinal levels and the underlying mechanisms are the focus of the present review. Much information gained on supraspinal cholinergic modulation of locomotion was obtained from the lamprey model. Nicotinic cholinergic inputs increase the level of excitation of brainstem descending command neurons, the reticulospinal neurons (RSNs), whereas muscarinic inputs activate a select group of hindbrain neurons that project to the RSNs to boost their level of excitation. Muscarinic inputs also reduce the transmission of sensory inputs in the brainstem, a phenomenon that could help in sustaining goal directed locomotion. In the spinal cord, intrinsic cholinergic inputs strongly modulate the activity of interneurons and motoneurons to control the locomotor output. Altogether, the present review underlines the importance of the cholinergic inputs in the modulation of locomotor activity in vertebrates.

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