A quantitative analysis of activity-related calcium dynamics was performed in motoneurons of the nucleus hypoglossus in the brain stem slice preparation from mouse by simultaneous patch-clamp and microfluorometric calcium measurements. Motoneurons were analyzed under in vitro conditions that kept them in a functionally intact state represented by rhythmic, inspiratory-related bursts of excitatory postsynaptic currents and associated action potential discharges. Bursts of electrical activity were paralleled by somatic calcium transients resulting from calcium influx through voltage-activated calcium channels, where each action potential accounted for a calcium-mediated charge influx around 2 pC into the somatic compartment. Under in vivo conditions, rhythmic-respiratory activity in young mice occurred at frequencies up to 5 Hz, demonstrating the necessity for rapid calcium elevation and recovery in respiratory-related neurons. The quantitative analysis of hypoglossal calcium homeostasis identified an average extrusion rate, but an exceptionally low endogenous calcium binding capacity as cellular parameters accounting for rapid calcium signaling. Our results suggest that dynamics of somatic calcium transients 1) define an upper limit for the maximum frequency of respiratory-related burst discharges and 2) represent a potentially dangerous determinant of intracellular calcium profiles during pathophysiological and/or excitotoxic conditions.
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