Despite the trauma of dissection and special metabolic requirements, the physiological properties of funiculi of the mammalian spinal cord can be studied in vitro. They are adequately oxygenated by diffusion at 0.88 atm. pO2 and remain in a functionally normal state for over 12 hours.
The internal consistency of several kinds of data presented in this and the foregoing papers (5, 38) serves to characterize certain properties of central myelinated axons whether excised or in situ. (1) Spinal tracts support a large spike potential in vitro whose form, duration, and velocity are comparable to those of alpha fibers in vitro and spinal tracts in vivo. (2) Properties consistent with a large L fraction are found in central axons whether excised or in situ. (3) Following conduction there has been identified post-spike supernormality with exponential time course (7.5 msecs. half-time) which is the result of activity intrinsic to parent fibers of dorsal columns. The supernormality is similar in form and magnitude both in excised and intact funiculi. (4) In excised funiculi the action potential of parent axons includes a large negative after-potential whose form and duration correspond satisfactorily with this supernormality. This potential appears not to result from activity arising in broken collaterals. (5) Central axons, excised or intact, fire spontaneously in the presence of citrate ion, and when synchronized by stimulation develop periodic oscillations at about 400 C.P.S. but show no such behavior in the presence of excess potassium ion.
Certain characteristics peculiar to central axons indicate that they occupy an extreme position in the spectrum of properties encountered in conducting tissues. Dorsal column myelinated axons differ from their peripheral counterparts, even though they are parts of the same cell, in the following ways. The maintenance of the column spike potential is more critically dependent on CO2 and the entire tissue mass has a higher oxygen consumption. The negative after-potential is much larger and the positive after-potential, non-existent following a single volley, is more difficult to develop by repetitive stimulation. Unlike peripheral nerve, central axons are not incited to spontaneous activity by manipulation of certain constituents normally present in their environment. However, when induced by the application of citrate the resulting rhythmic behavior has twice the frequency of that in peripheral nerve. In general, the recovery process in central axons is more invariant than that in peripheral axons when they are subjected to similar changes in their artificial environments.