Neurons in the rat nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS) possess morphologic characteristics that have been correlated with the type of synaptic information they receive. These features have been described for viscerosensory neurons but not for premotor NTS neurons. The morphologic and synaptic features of neurons in the rat caudal NTS were assessed using whole-cell patch-clamp recordings and biocytin labeling in brainstem slices. Gastric-related premotor NTS neurons were identified for recording after inoculation of the stomach wall with a transneuronal retrograde viral label that reports enhanced green fluorescent protein. Three morphologic groups of NTS neurons were identified based on quantitative aspects of soma area and proximal dendritic arborization, measures that were consistent across slice recordings. The most common type of cell (group I) had relatively small somata and one to three sparsely branching dendrites, whereas the other groups had larger somata and more than three dendrites, which branched predominantly close to (group II) or distant from (group III) the soma. Voltage-clamp recordings revealed spontaneous excitatory and inhibitory postsynaptic currents in all neurons, regardless of morphology. Gastric-related premotor NTS neurons composed two of the three morphologic types (i.e., groups I and II). Compared with unlabeled neurons, these cells were less likely to receive constant-latency synaptic input from the tractus solitarius. These results refute the hypothesis that general patterns of synaptic input to NTS neurons depend on morphology. Gastric premotor neurons comprise a subset of NTS morphologic types, the organization of the viscerosensory input to which has yet to be defined.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.