The objective of the present study was to determine the location of the cholinergic neurons activated in the spinal cord of decerebrate cats during fictive locomotion. Locomotion was induced by stimulation of the mesencephalic locomotor region (MLR). After bouts of locomotion during a 7-9 h period, the animals were perfused and the L3-S1 spinal cord segments removed. Cats in the control group were subjected to the same surgical procedures but no locomotor task. The tissues were sectioned and then stained by immunohistochemical methods for detection of the c-fos protein and choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) enzyme. The resultant c-fos labeling in the lumbar spinal cord was similar to that induced by fictive locomotion in the cat. ChAT-positive cells also clearly exhibited fictive locomotion induced c-fos labeling. Double labeling with c-fos and ChAT was observed in cells within ventral lamina VII, VIII, and possibly IX. Most of them were concentrated in the medial portion of lamina VII close to lamina X, similar in location to the partition and central canal cells found by Barber and collaborators. The number of ChAT and c-fos-labeled neurons was increased following fictive locomotion and was greatest in the intermediate gray, compared with dorsal and ventral regions. The results are consistent with the suggestion that cholinergic interneurons in the lumbar spinal cord are involved in the production of fictive locomotion. Cells in the regions positive for double- labeled cells were targeted for electrophysiological study during locomotion, intracellular filling, and subsequent processing for ChAT immunohistochemistry. Three cells identified in this way were vigorously active during locomotion in phase with ipsilateral extension, and they projected to the contralateral side of the spinal cord. Thus a new population of spinal cord cells can be defined: cholinergic partition cells with commissural projections that are active during the extension phase of locomotion.
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