Genetic identification of an embryonic parafacial oscillator coupling to the preBötzinger complex

Nat Neurosci. 2009 Aug;12(8):1028-35. doi: 10.1038/nn.2354. Epub 2009 Jul 5.


The hindbrain transcription factors Phox2b and Egr2 (also known as Krox20) are linked to the development of the autonomic nervous system and rhombomere-related regulation of breathing, respectively. Mutations in these proteins can lead to abnormal breathing behavior as a result of an alteration in an unidentified neuronal system. We characterized a bilateral embryonic parafacial (e-pF) population of rhythmically bursting neurons at embryonic day (E) 14.5 in mice. These cells expressed Phox2b, were derived from Egr2-expressing precursors and their development was dependent on the integrity of the Egr2 gene. Silencing or eliminating the e-pF oscillator, but not the putative inspiratory oscillator (preBötzinger complex, preBötC), led to an abnormally slow rhythm, demonstrating that the e-pF controls the respiratory rhythm. The e-pF oscillator, the only one active at E14.5, entrained and then coupled with the preBötC, which emerged independently at E15.5. These data establish the dual organization of the respiratory rhythm generator at the time of its inception, when it begins to drive fetal breathing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Clocks / genetics*
  • Brain Stem / cytology
  • Brain Stem / embryology*
  • Brain Stem / metabolism*
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Early Growth Response Protein 2 / genetics
  • Early Growth Response Protein 2 / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / genetics*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • Inhalation / genetics
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Inbred DBA
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Nerve Net / cytology
  • Nerve Net / embryology
  • Nerve Net / metabolism
  • Neurogenesis / genetics
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Periodicity
  • Respiratory Center / cytology
  • Respiratory Center / embryology*
  • Respiratory Center / metabolism*
  • Respiratory Physiological Phenomena / genetics
  • Reticular Formation / cytology
  • Reticular Formation / embryology
  • Reticular Formation / metabolism
  • Stem Cells / cytology
  • Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • Early Growth Response Protein 2
  • Egr2 protein, mouse
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • NBPhox protein
  • Transcription Factors