A relationship between motoneuron activity and calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) expression was previously suggested based on indirect inferences. We show here a positive correlation between CGRP immunoreactivity and firing activity in an experimental model that used tetanus neurotoxin (TeNT) to alter basal firing levels. A low dose (0.5 ng/kg) of TeNT injected in the lateral rectus muscle raised the basal firing rate of ipsilateral abducens motoneurons, estimated as the firing rate at straight-ahead gaze (F0); the firing rate returned to control values after 2 weeks. In contrast, a high dose (5 ng/kg) of TeNT decreased basal firing, which recovered slowly over a 7-week period. Expression of CGRP immunoreactivity by abducens motoneurons, preferentially related to βCGRP gene expression, was analyzed during these periods of altered firing activity. The number of CGRP-immunofluorescent abducens motoneurons increased to ∼120% by 7 days after low-dose TeNT, to include all available motoneurons in the nucleus. In addition, the average CGRP immunofluorescence optical density inside motoneurons almost doubled after 4 days and returned toward control values in the following 2 weeks. In contrast, a high-dose injection of TeNT reduced the number of CGRP-immunofluorescent motoneurons to 5.4% of control 7 days post injection, and the number returned to 77.6% after 42 days. CGRP immunofluorescence intensity inside motoneurons was also reduced. Regression analysis of F0 values with either the number of CGRP-immunolabeled motoneurons, their average immunofluorescence intensity, or both factors combined resulted in positive correlations with regression coefficients of 0.87 or higher. Therefore, CGRP expression and firing activity in abducens motoneurons are positively correlated. J. Comp. Neurol. 451:201–212, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
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