Rett syndrome, a severe X-linked neurodevelopmental disorder caused by mutations in the gene encoding methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 (Mecp2), is associated with a highly irregular respiratory pattern including severe upper-airway dysfunction. Recent work suggests that hyperexcitability of the Hering-Breuer reflex (HBR) pathway contributes to respiratory dysrhythmia in Mecp2 mutant mice. To assess how enhanced HBR input impacts respiratory entrainment by sensory afferents in closed-loop in vivo-like conditions, we investigated the input (vagal stimulus trains) - output (phrenic bursting) entrainment via the HBR in wild-type and MeCP2-deficient mice. Using the in situ perfused brainstem preparation, which maintains an intact pontomedullary axis capable of generating an in vivo-like respiratory rhythm in the absence of the HBR, we mimicked the HBR feedback input by stimulating the vagus nerve (at threshold current, 0.5 ms pulse duration, 75 Hz pulse frequency, 100 ms train duration) at an inter-burst frequency matching that of the intrinsic oscillation of the inspiratory motor output of each preparation. Using this approach, we observed significant input-output entrainment in wild-type mice as measured by the maximum of the cross-correlation function, the peak of the instantaneous relative phase distribution, and the mutual information of the instantaneous phases. This entrainment was associated with a reduction in inspiratory duration during feedback stimulation. In contrast, the strength of input-output entrainment was significantly weaker in Mecp2 (-/+) mice. However, Mecp2 (-/+) mice also had a reduced inspiratory duration during stimulation, indicating that reflex behavior in the HBR pathway was intact. Together, these observations suggest that the respiratory network compensates for enhanced sensitivity of HBR inputs by reducing HBR input-output entrainment.
Keywords: Hering–Breuer reflex; Mecp2; closed-loop; entrainment; vagus.