Spike train propagation in the axon of a visual interneuron, the descending contralateral movement detector of Locusta migratoria
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Neurons perform complex computations, communications and precise transmissions of information in the form of action potentials (APs). The high level of heterogeneity and complexity at all levels of organization within a neuron and the functional requirement of highly permeable cell membranes leave neurons exposed to damage when energy levels are insufficient for the active maintenance of ionic gradients. When energy is limiting the ionic gradient across a neuron’s cell membrane risks being dissipated which can have dire consequences. Other researchers have advocated “generalized channel arrest” and/or “spike arrest” as a means of reducing the neuronal permeability allowing neurons to adjust the demands placed on their electrogenic pumps to lower levels of energy supply. I investigated the consequences of hypoxia on the propagation of a train of APs down the length of a fast conducting axon capable of transmitting APs at very high frequencies. Under normoxic conditions I found that APs show conduction velocities and instantaneous frequencies nearly double that of neurons experiencing energy limiting hypoxic conditions. I show that hypoxia affects AP conduction differently for different lengths of axon and for APs of different instantaneous frequencies. Action potentials of high instantaneous frequency in branching lengths of axon within ganglia were delayed more significantly than those in non-branching lengths contained within the connective and fail preferentially in branching axon. I found that octopamine attenuates the effects of hypoxia on AP propagation for the branching length of axon but has no effect on the non-branching length of axon. Additionally, for energetically stable cells, application of the anti-diabetic medication metformin or the hyperpolarization-activated cyclic nucleotide-gated (HCN) channel blocker ZD7288 resulted in a reduced performance similar to that seen in neurons experiencing energetic stress. Furthermore both metformin and ZD7288 affect the shape of individual APs within an AP train as well as the original temporal sequence of the AP train, which encodes behaviourally relevant information. I propose that the reduced performance observed in an energetically compromised cell represents an adaptive mechanism employed by neurons in order to maintain the integrity of their highly heterogeneous and complex organization during periods of reduced energy supply.