During insect metamorphosis the nervous system is reorganized to accommodate changes in behavior. In the hawkmoth, Manduca sexta, many identified larval motoneurons persist to innervate new adult muscles, while undergoing changes in dendritic morphology and synaptic connections. The thoracic leg motoneurons, for example, innervate different sets of muscles in the larva and adult and participate in distinct types of locomotor behavior in the two stages of life. To determine whether changes in the biophysical properties of these motoneurons accompany the structural and functional modifications that have been described, we used the whole-cell voltage-clamp technique to compare the Ca2+ and K+ currents expressed by leg motoneurons isolated from the larval, pupal and adult stages of Manduca. After 24 h in culture, the somata of leg motoneurons isolated from all three stages expressed voltage-sensitive Ca2+ currents that could be blocked by Cd2+, Co2+ or Ni2+. The currents were larger with Ba2+ as the charge carrier. The Ca2+ current density was significantly lower in these motoneurons during the early pupal stage than in either the larva or adult. Similar experiments revealed both transient and sustained K+ currents in the leg motoneurons that could be blocked with Cs+. There was a significant decrease in the density of the transient, inactivating outward current in leg motoneurons isolated from the early pupal stage. Thus, the levels of some types of ionic currents are modulated during metamorphosis. These changes may be important for the developmental or behavioral changes that accompany metamorphosis.

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