Monoamines in the spinal cord are important in the regulation of locomotor rhythms, nociception, and motor reflexes. To gain further insight into the control of these functions, the steady-state extracellular distribution of monoamines was mapped in the anesthetized rat's lumbar spinal cord. The effect of acute spinal cord lesions at sites selected for high resting levels was determined over ∼1 h to estimate contributions to resting levels from tonic descending activity and to delineate chemical changes that may influence the degree of pathology and recovery after spinal injury. Measurements employed fast cyclic voltammetry with carbon fiber microelectrodes to give high spatial resolution. Monoamine oxidation currents, sampled at equal vertical spacings within each segment, were displayed as contours over the boundaries delineated by histologically reconstructed electrode tracks. Monoamine oxidation currents were found in well defined foci, often confined within a single lamina. Larger currents were typically found in the dorsal or ventral horns and in the lateral aspect of the intermediate zone. Cooling of the low-thoracic spinal cord led to a decrease in the oxidation current (to 71-85% of control) in dorsal and ventral horns. Subsequent low-thoracic transection produced a transient increase in signal in some animals followed by a longer lasting decrease to levels similar to or below that with cooling (to 17-86% of control values). We conclude that descending fibers tonically release high amounts of monoamines in localized regions of the dorsal and ventral horn of the lumbar spinal cord at rest. Lower amounts of monoamines were detected in medial intermediate zone areas, where strong release may be needed for descending activation of locomotor rhythms.
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