Functional imaging, spatial reconstruction, and biophysical analysis of a respiratory motor circuit isolated in vitro

J Neurosci. 2008 Mar 5;28(10):2353-65. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3553-07.2008.


We combined real-time calcium-based neural activity imaging with whole-cell patch-clamp recording techniques to map the spatial organization and analyze electrophysiological properties of respiratory neurons forming the circuit transmitting rhythmic drive from the pre-Bötzinger complex (pre-BötC) through premotoneurons to hypoglossal (XII) motoneurons. Inspiratory pre-BötC neurons, XII premotoneurons (preMNs), and XII motoneurons (MNs) were retrogradely labeled with Ca(2+)-sensitive dye in neonatal rat in vitro brainstem slices. PreMN cell bodies were arrayed dorsomedially to pre-BötC neurons with little spatial overlap; axonal projections to MNs were ipsilateral. Inspiratory MNs were distributed in dorsal and ventral subnuclei of XII. Voltage-clamp recordings revealed that two currents, persistent sodium current (NaP) and K(+)-dominated leak current (Leak), primarily contribute to preMN/MN subthreshold current-voltage relationships. NaP or Leak conductance densities in preMNs and MNs were not significantly different. We quantified preMN and MN action potential time course and spike frequency-current (f-I) relationships and found no significant differences in repetitive spiking dynamics, steady-state f-I gains, and afterpolarizing potentials. Rhythmic synaptic drive current densities were similar in preMNs and MNs. Our results indicate that, despite topographic and morphological differences, preMNs and MNs have some common intrinsic membrane, synaptic integration, and spiking properties that we postulate ensure fidelity of inspiratory drive transmission and conversion of synaptic drive into (pre)motor output. There also appears to be a common architectonic organization for some respiratory drive transmission circuits whereby many preMNs are spatially segregated from pre-BötC rhythm-generating neurons, which we hypothesize may facilitate downstream integration of convergent inputs for premotor pattern formation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Biophysical Phenomena
  • Biophysics
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Motor Neurons / cytology*
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / cytology*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Respiratory Center / cytology*
  • Respiratory Center / physiology*