The pre-Botzinger complex (pre-BotC) has been proposed to be essential for respiratory rhythm generation from work in vitro. Much less, however, is known about its role in the generation and modulation of respiratory rhythm in vivo. Therefore we examined whether chemical stimulation of the in vivo pre-BotC manifests respiratory modulation consistent with a respiratory rhythm generator. In chloralose- or chloralose/urethan-anesthetized, vagotomized cats, we recorded phrenic nerve discharge and arterial blood pressure in response to chemical stimulation of neurons located in the pre- BotC with DL-homocysteic acid (DLH; 10 mM; 21 nl). In 115 of the 122 sites examined in the pre-BotC, unilateral microinjection of DLH produced an increase in phrenic nerve discharge that was characterized by one of the following changes in cycle timing and pattern: 1) a rapid series of high- amplitude, rapid rate of rise, short-duration bursts, 2) tonic excitation (with or without respiratory oscillations), 3) an integration of the first two types of responses (i.e., tonic excitation with high-amplitude, short- duration bursts superimposed), or 4) augmented bursts in the phrenic neurogram (i.e., eupneic breath ending with a high-amplitude, short-duration burst). In 107 of these sites, the phrenic neurogram response was accompanied by an increase or decrease (≥10 mmHg) in arterial blood pressure. Thus increases in respiratory burst frequency and production of tonic discharge of inspiratory output, both of which have been seen in vitro, as well as modulation of burst pattern can be produced by local perturbations of excitatory amino acid neurotransmission in the pre-BotC in vivo. These findings are consistent with the proposed role of this region as the locus for respiratory rhythm generation.
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