Mastication results from the interaction of an intrinsic rhythmical neural pattern and sensory feedback from the mouth, muscles and joints. The pattern is matched to the physical characteristics of food, but also varies with age. There are large differences in masticatory movements among subjects. The intrinsic rhythmical pattern is generated by an assembly of neurons called a central pattern generator (CPG) located in the pons and medulla. The CPG receives inputs from higher centers of the brain, especially from the inferio-lateral region of the sensorimotor cortex and from sensory receptors. Mechanoreceptors in the lips and oral mucosa, in muscles, and in the periodontal ligaments around the roots of the teeth have particularly powerful effects on movement parameters. The central pattern generator includes a core group of neurons with intrinsic bursting properties, as well as a variety of other neurons that receive inputs from oral and muscle spindle afferents. Reorganization of subpopulations of neurons within the CPG underlies changes in movement pattern. In addition to controlling motoneurons supplying the jaw, tongue, and facial muscles, the CPG also modulates reflex circuits. It is proposed that these brainstem circuits also participate in the control of human speech.
Learning outcomes: Readers will be able to: (1) describe the general location and function of the central pattern generator for mastication, (2) identify the primary nuclei involved in the central pattern generator for mastication, (3) describe the general interactions among the central pattern generators of speech, mastication, respiration, and locomotion, and (4) compare/relate the brainstem systems controlling mastication and speech.