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Motor fatigue induced by physical activity is an everyday experience characterized by a decreased capacity to generate motor force. Factors in both muscles and the central nervous system are involved. The central component of fatigue modulates the ability of motoneurons to activate muscle adequately independently of the muscle physiology. Indirect evidence indicates that central fatigue is caused by serotonin (5-HT), but the cellular mechanisms are unknown. In a slice preparation from the spinal cord of the adult turtle, we found that prolonged stimulation of the raphe-spinal pathway--as during motor exercise--activated 5-HT1A receptors that decreased motoneuronal excitability. Electrophysiological tests combined with pharmacology showed that focal activation of 5-HT1A receptors at the axon initial segment (AIS), but not on other motoneuronal compartments, inhibited the action potential initiation by modulating a Na(+) current. Immunohistochemical staining against 5-HT revealed a high-density innervation of 5-HT terminals on the somatodendritic membrane and a complete absence on the AIS. This observation raised the hypothesis that a 5-HT spillover activates receptors at this latter compartment. We tested it by measuring the level of extracellular 5-HT with cyclic voltammetry and found that prolonged stimulations of the raphe-spinal pathway increased the level of 5-HT to a concentration sufficient to activate 5-HT1A receptors. Together our results demonstrate that prolonged release of 5-HT during motor activity spills over from its release sites to the AIS of motoneurons. Here, activated 5-HT1A receptors inhibit firing and, thereby, muscle contraction. Hence, this is a cellular mechanism for central fatigue.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

Publication Date





4774 - 4779


Action Potentials, Animals, Axons, Cell Membrane, Fatigue, Membrane Potentials, Motor Neurons, Muscle Contraction, Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT1A, Serotonin, Sodium, Turtles