Physiological, anatomical and genetic identification of CPG neurons in the developing mammalian spinal cord.
Kiehn O., Butt SJB.
The basic motor patterns underlying rhythmic limb movements during locomotion are generated by neuronal networks located within the spinal cord. These networks are called Central Pattern Generators (CPGs). Isolated spinal cord preparations from newborn rats and mice have become increasingly important for understanding the organization of the CPG in the mammalian spinal cord. Early studies using these preparations have focused on the overall network structure and the localization of the CPG. In this review we concentrate on recent experiments aimed at identifying and characterizing CPG-interneurons in the rodent. These experiments include the organization and function of descending commissural interneurons (dCINs) in the hindlimb CPG of the neonatal rat, as well as the role of Ephrin receptor A4 (EphA4) and its Ephrin ligand B3 (EphrinB3), in the construction of the mammalian locomotor network. These latter experiments have defined EphA4 as a molecular marker for mammalian excitatory hindlimb CPG neurons. We also review genetic approaches that can be applied to the mouse spinal cord. These include methods for identifying sub-populations of neurons by genetically encoded reporters, techniques to trace network connectivity with cell-specific genetically encoded tracers, and ways to selectively ablate or eliminate neuron populations from the CPG. We propose that by applying a multidisciplinary approach it will be possible to understand the network structure of the mammalian locomotor CPG. Such an understanding will be instrumental in devising new therapeutic strategies for patients with spinal cord injury.