The mechanism of noradrenergic α1 excitatory modulation of pontine reticular formation neurons

D. R. Stevens, R. W. McCarley, R. W. Greene

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32 Scopus citations


The α1 adrenergic receptor occurs in all major divisions of the CNS and is thought to play a role in all behaviors influenced by norepinephrine (NE). In the medial pontine reticular formation (mPRF), the proposed site of adrenergic enhancement of startle responses (Davis, 1984), α1 agonists excite most neurons (Gerber et al., 1990). We here report that α1 excitation results from a reduction of a voltage- and calcium-dependent potassium current, not previously recognized as ligand-modulated. The calcium sensitivity is suggested by its antagonism with Mg2+, Cd2+, Ba2+, low concentrations of tetraethylammonium, and charybdotoxin. The voltage sensitivity of this conductance falls within the membrane potential range critical to action potential generation. Based on this voltage sensitivity, the change in repetitive firing characteristics may be predicted according to a mathematical model of the mPRF neuronal electrophysiology. The predicted response to a 50% decrease in the phenylephrine (PE)-sensitive conductance is similar to the observed responses, with respect to both the current response under voltage-clamp conditions and alterations of the AHP and frequency/current curve. In contrast, modeling a reduction of a voltage- insensitive leak current predicts none of these changes. Thus, the noradrenergic reduction of this current depolarizes the membrane, increases the likelihood of an initial response to depolarizing input, and increases firing rate during sustained depolarization in a manner consistent with an NE role as an excitatory neuromodulator of the mPRF.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6481-6487
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number11 I
StatePublished - 1994


  • calcium dependence
  • neuronal simulation
  • phenylephrine
  • potassium channels
  • startle response

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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