A Brainstem reticulotegmental neural ensemble drives acoustic startle reflexes

Nat Commun. 2021 Nov 4;12(1):6403. doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-26723-9.


The reticulotegmental nucleus (RtTg) has long been recognized as a crucial component of brainstem reticular formation (RF). However, the function of RtTg and its related circuits remain elusive. Here, we report a role of the RtTg in startle reflex, a highly conserved innate defensive behaviour. Optogenetic activation of RtTg neurons evokes robust startle responses in mice. The glutamatergic neurons in the RtTg are significantly activated during acoustic startle reflexes (ASR). Chemogenetic inhibition of the RtTg glutamatergic neurons decreases the ASR amplitudes. Viral tracing reveals an ASR neural circuit that the cochlear nucleus carrying auditory information sends direct excitatory innervations to the RtTg glutamatergic neurons, which in turn project to spinal motor neurons. Together, our findings describe a functional role of RtTg and its related neural circuit in startle reflexes, and demonstrate how the RF connects auditory system with motor functions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Auditory Pathways / physiology
  • Brain Stem / physiology*
  • Cochlear Nerve / physiology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Reflex, Startle / physiology*