We previously described synaptic currents between baroreceptor fibers and second-order neurons in the nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS) that were larger in Syrian hamsters than in rats. This suggested that although electrical activity throughout the hamster brain decreased as brain temperature declined, the greater synaptic input to its NTS would support continued operation of cardiorespiratory reflexes at low body temperatures. Here, we focused on properties that would protect these neurons against potential damage from the larger synaptic inputs, testing the hypotheses that hamster NTS neurons exhibit: 1) intrinsic N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) properties that limit Ca(2+) influx to a greater degree than do rat NTS neurons and 2) properties that reduce gating signals to NMDARs to a greater degree than in rat NTS neurons. Whole cell patch-clamp recordings on anatomically identified second-order NTS baroreceptive neurons showed that NMDAR-mediated synaptic currents between sensory fibers and second-order NTS neurons were larger in hamsters than in rats at 33°C and 15°C, with no difference in their permeability to Ca(2+). However, at 15°C, but not at 33°C, non-NMDAR currents evoked by glutamate released from baroreceptor fibers had significantly shorter durations in hamsters than in rats. Thus, hamster NMDARs did not exhibit lower Ca(2+) influx than did rats (negating hypothesis 1), but they did exhibit significant differences in non-NMDAR neuronal properties at low temperature (consistent with hypothesis 2). The latter (shorter duration of non-NMDAR currents) would likely limit NMDAR coincidence gating and may help protect hamster NTS neurons, enabling them to contribute to signal processing at low body temperatures.
Keywords: AMPAR; NMDAR; baroreflex; cold.