Previously, we reported that in rats, GABA(A) and glycine receptor immunoreactivity increased markedly in multiple brain stem respiratory nuclei around postnatal days (P) 12-13, a critical period when abrupt neurochemical, metabolic, ventilatory, and electrophysiological changes occur in the respiratory network and when the system is under greater inhibition than excitation. Since Na(+)-K(+)-2Cl(-) co-transporter 1 (NKCC1) and K(+)-Cl(-) co-transporter 2 (KCC2) play pivotal roles in determining the responses of GABA(A) and glycine receptors, we hypothesized that NKCC1 and KCC2 undergo significant changes during the critical period. An in-depth immunohistochemical and single neuron optical densitometric study of neurons in seven respiratory-related nuclei (the pre-Bötzinger complex [PBC], nucleus ambiguus [Amb], hypoglossal nucleus [XII], ventrolateral subnucleus of solitary tract nucleus [NTS(VL)], retrotrapezoid nucleus/parafacial respiratory group [retrotrapezoid nucleus/parafacial respiratory group (RTN/pFRG)], dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus nerve [dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus nerve (DMNX)], and inferior olivary nucleus [IO]) and a non-respiratory cuneate nucleus (CN, an internal control) was undertaken in P0-P21 rats. Our data revealed that (1) NKCC1 immunoreactivity exhibited a developmental decrease from P0 to P21 in all eight nuclei examined, being relatively high during the first 1½ postnatal weeks and decreased thereafter. The decrease was abrupt and statistically significant at P12 in the PBC, Amb, and XII; (2) KCC2 immunoreactivity in these eight nuclei showed a developmental increase from P0 to P21; and (3) the significant reduction in NKCC1 and the greater dominance of KCC2 around P12 in multiple respiratory nuclei of the brain stem may form the basis of an enhanced inhibition in the respiratory network during the critical period before the system stabilizes to a more mature state.
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