Axons can be depolarized by ionotropic receptors and transmit subthreshold depolarizations to the soma by passive electrical spread. This raises the possibility that axons and axonal receptors can participate in integration and firing in neurons. Previously, we have shown that exogenous GABA depolarizes cerebellar granule cell axons through local activation of GABAA receptors (GABAARs) and the soma through electrotonic spread of the axonal potential resulting in increased firing. We show here that excitability of granule cells is also increased by release of endogenous GABA from molecular layer interneurons (MLIs) and spillover activation of parallel fiber GABAARs in mice and rats. Changes in granule cell excitability were assessed by excitability testing after activation of MLIs with channelrhodopsin or electrical stimulation in the molecular layer. In granule cells lacking an axon, excitability was not changed, suggesting that axonal receptors are required. To determine the distance over which subthreshold potentials may spread, we estimated the effective axonal electrical length constant (520μm) by excitability testing and focal uncaging of RuBi-GABA on the axon at varying distances from the soma. These data suggest that GABAAR-mediated axonal potentials can participate in integration and firing of cerebellar granule cells.
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