Using whole cell patch-clamp recordings, we have examined changes in the electrophysiological properties and response characteristics of antennal lobe (AL) neurons associated with the metamorphic adult development of the sphinx moth, Manduca sexta. Whole cell current profiles and electrical excitability were examined in dispersed AL neurons in vitro, and in medial-group AL neurons in situ in semi-intact brain preparations. Around stages 2-4 of the 18 stages of metamorphic adult development, whole cell current profiles were dominated by large outward (K+) currents. Calcium-dependent action potentials could be elicited at this stage, but only a small percentage of cells exhibited sodium spikes. From stages 3 to 10, there was a rapid increase in the proportion of AL neurons exhibiting rapidly activating, transient sodium currents, and many cells in vitro exhibited spontaneous bursts of spike activity at this time. As development progressed, action-potential waveforms became shorter in duration and larger in amplitude. Cell-type-specific differences in the prevalence of spontaneous activity, and in the electrophysiological properties and response characteristics of AL neurons, were most apparent late in metamorphosis. While removal of antennal sensory input to the ALs early (stage 1-2) in metamorphosis had no detectable effect on the development of cell excitability, a significantly higher percentage of neurons in vitro from stage 4 pupae exhibited sodium-based action potentials following the addition of serotonin to the culture medium. Characteristic forms of electrical excitability in developing Manduca AL neurons, and their modulation by serotonin, seem likely to play a central role in the functional development of the ALs.
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