BACKGROUND: Action potentials are the classic mechanism by which neurons convey a state of excitation throughout their length, leading, after synaptic transmission, to the activation of other neurons and consequently to network functioning. Using an in vitro integrated model, we found previously that peripheral networks in the autonomic nervous system can organise an unconventional regulatory reflex of the digestive tract motility without action potentials. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: In this report, we used combined neuropharmacological and biochemical approaches to elucidate some steps of the mechanism that conveys excitation along the nerves fibres without action potentials. This mechanism requires the production of ceramide in membrane lipid rafts, which triggers in the cytoplasm an increase in intracellular calcium concentration, followed by activation of a neuronal nitric oxide synthase leading to local production of nitric oxide, and then to guanosine cyclic monophosphate. This sequence of second messengers is activated in cascade from rafts to rafts to ensure conduction of the excitation along the nerve fibres. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Our results indicate that second messengers are involved in neuronal conduction of excitation without action potentials. This mechanism represents the first evidence-to our knowledge-that excitation is carried along nerves independently of electrical signals. This unexpected ceramide-based conduction of excitation without action potentials along the autonomic nerve fibres opens up new prospects in our understanding of neuronal functioning.
Fasano, C., Tercé, F., Niel, J. P., Nguyen, H. T. T., Hiol, A., Bertrand-Michel, J., … Miolan, J. P. (2007). Neuronal conduction of excitation without action potentials based on ceramide production. PLoS ONE, 2(7). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0000612