Temperature-robust activity patterns arise from coordinated axonal Sodium channel properties

by Margaret L. DeMaegd, Wolfgang Stein

Action potentials are a key component of neuronal communication and their precise timing is critical for processes like learning, memory, and complex behaviors. Action potentials propagate through long axons to their postsynaptic partners, which requires axons not only to faithfully transfer action potentials to distant synaptic regions but also to maintain their timing. This is particularly challenging when axons differ in their morphological and physiological properties, as timing is predicted to diverge between these axons when extrinsic conditions change. It is unknown if and how diverse axons maintain timing during temperature changes that animals and humans encounter. We studied whether ambient temperature changes cause different timing in the periphery of neurons that centrally produce temperature-robust activity. In an approach combining modeling, imaging, and electrophysiology, we explored mechanisms that support timing by exposing the axons of three different neuron types from the same crustacean (Cancer borealis) motor circuit and involved in the same functional task to a range of physiological temperatures. We show that despite substantial differences between axons, the effects of temperature on action potential propagation were moderate and supported temperature-robust timing over long-distances. Our modeling demonstrates that to maintain timing, the underlying channel properties of these axons do not need to be temperature-insensitive or highly restricted, but coordinating the temperature sensitivities of the Sodium activation gate time constant and the maximum Sodium conductance is required. Thus, even highly temperature-sensitive ion channel properties can support temperature-robust timing between distinct neuronal types and across long distances.

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