Phox2b is required for development of the peripheral autonomic nervous system and a subset of cranial nerves and lower brainstem nuclei. Phox2b mutations in man cause diffuse autonomic dysfunction and deficits in the automatic control of breathing. Here we study the distribution of Phox2b in the adult rat hindbrain to determine whether this protein is selectively expressed by neurons involved in respiratory and autonomic control. In the medulla oblongata, Phox2b-immunoreactive nuclei were present in the dorsal vagal complex, intermediate reticular nucleus, dorsomedial spinal trigeminal nucleus, nucleus ambiguus, catecholaminergic neurons, and retrotrapezoid nucleus (RTN). Phox2b was expressed by both central excitatory relays of the sympathetic baroreflex (nucleus of the solitary tract and C1 neurons) but not by the inhibitory relay of this reflex. Phox2b was absent from the ventral respiratory column (VRC) caudal to RTN and rare within the parabrachial nuclei. In the pons, Phox2b was confined to cholinergic efferent neurons (salivary, vestibulocochlear) and noncholinergic peritrigeminal neurons. Rostral to the pons, Phox2b was detected only in the oculomotor complex. In adult rats, Phox2b is neither a comprehensive nor a selective marker of hindbrain autonomic pathways. This marker identifies a subset of hindbrain neurons that control orofacial movements (dorsomedial spinal trigeminal nucleus, pontine peritrigeminal neurons), balance and auditory function (vestibulocochlear efferents), the eyes, and both divisions of the autonomic efferent system. Phox2b is virtually absent from the respiratory rhythm and pattern generator (VRC and dorsolateral pons) but is highly expressed by neurons involved in the chemical drive and reflex regulation of this oscillator.
(c) 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.