Sensory input from the airways to suprapontine brain regions contributes to respiratory sensations and the regulation of respiratory function. However, relatively little is known about the central organization of this higher brain circuitry. We exploited the properties of the H129 strain of herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) to perform anterograde transneuronal tracing of the central projections of airway afferent nerve pathways. The extrathoracic trachea in Sprague-Dawley rats was inoculated with HSV-1 H129, and tissues along the neuraxis were processed for HSV-1 immunoreactivity. H129 infection appeared in the vagal sensory ganglia within 24 h and the number of infected cells peaked at 72 h. Brainstem nuclei, including the nucleus of the solitary tract and trigeminal sensory nuclei were infected within 48 h, and within 96 h infected cells were evident within the pons (lateral and medial parabrachial nuclei), thalamus (ventral posteromedial, ventral posterolateral, submedius, and reticular nuclei), hypothalamus (paraventricular and lateral nuclei), subthalamus (zona incerta), and amygdala (central and anterior amygdala area). At later times H129 was detected in cortical forebrain regions including the insular, orbital, cingulate, and somatosensory cortices. Vagotomy significantly reduced the number of infected cells within vagal sensory nuclei in the brainstem, confirming the main pathway of viral transport is through the vagus nerves. Sympathetic postganglionic neurons in the stellate and superior cervical ganglia were infected by 72 h, however, there was no evidence for retrograde transynaptic movement of the virus in sympathetic pathways in the central nervous system (CNS). These data demonstrate the organization of key structures within the CNS that receive afferent projections from the extrathoracic airways that likely play a role in the perception of airway sensations.
Copyright © 2012 IBRO. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.