Background: Hypoglossal (XII) motoneurons innervate tongue muscles and are vital for maintaining upper-airway patency during inspiration. Depression of XII nerve activity by opioid analgesics is a significant clinical problem, but underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. Currently there are no suitable pharmacological approaches to counter opiate-induced suppression of XII nerve activity while maintaining analgesia. Ampakines accentuate alpha-amino-3-hydroxyl-5-methyl-4-isoxazole-propionate (AMPA) receptor responses. The AMPA family of glutamate receptors mediate excitatory transmission to XII motoneurons. Therefore the objectives were to determine whether the depressant actions of mu-opioid receptor activation on inspiratory activity includes a direct inhibitory action at the inspiratory premotoneuron to XII motoneuron synapse, and to identify underlying mechanism(s). We then examined whether ampakines counteract opioid-induced depression of XII motoneuron activity.
Methodology/principal findings: A medullary slice preparation from neonatal rat that produces inspiratory-related output in vitro was used. Measurements of inspiratory burst amplitude and frequency were made from XII nerve roots. Whole-cell patch recordings from XII motoneurons were used to measure membrane currents and synaptic events. Application of the mu-opioid receptor agonist, DAMGO, to the XII nucleus depressed the output of inspiratory XII motoneurons via presynaptic inhibition of excitatory glutamatergic transmission. Ampakines (CX614 and CX717) alleviated DAMGO-induced depression of XII MN activity through postsynaptic actions on XII motoneurons.
Conclusions/significance: The inspiratory-depressant actions of opioid analgesics include presynaptic inhibition of XII motoneuron output. Ampakines counteract mu-opioid receptor-mediated depression of XII motoneuron inspiratory activity. These results suggest that ampakines may be beneficial in countering opiate-induced suppression of XII motoneuron activity and resultant impairment of airway patency.