Foetal breathing in mice results from prenatal activity of the two coupled hindbrain oscillators considered to be responsible for respiratory rhythm generation after birth: the pre-Bötzinger complex (preBötC) is active shortly before the onset of foetal breathing; the parafacial respiratory group (e-pF in embryo) starts activity one day earlier. Transcription factors have been identified that are essential to specify neural progenitors and lineages forming each of these oscillators during early development of the neural tube: Hoxa1, Egr2 (Krox20), Phox2b, Lbx1 and Atoh1 for the e-pF; Dbx1 and Evx1 for the preBötC which eventually grow contralateral axons requiring expression of Robo3. Inactivation of the genes encoding these factors leads to mis-specification of these neurons and distinct breathing abnormalities: apneic patterns and loss of central chemosensitivity for the e-pF (central congenital hypoventilation syndrome, CCHS, in humans), complete loss of breathing for the preBötC, right-left desynchronized breathing in Robo3 mutants. Mutations affecting development in more rostral (pontine) respiratory territories change the shape of the inspiratory drive without affecting the rhythm. Other (primordial) embryonic oscillators start in the mouse three days before the e-pF, to generate low frequency (LF) rhythms that are probably required for activity-dependent development of neurones at embryonic stages; in the foetus, however, they are actively silenced to avoid detrimental interaction with the on-going respiratory rhythm. Altogether, these observations provide a strong support to the previously proposed hypothesis that the functional organization of the respiratory generator is specified at early stages of development and is dual in nature, comprising two serially non-homologous oscillators.
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