Brainstem projections to the phrenic nucleus: an anterograde and retrograde HRP study in the rabbit

Author(s): Ellenberger HH, Vera PL, Haselton JR, Haselton CL, Schneiderman N


Brainstem projections to the phrenic nucleus were studied in rabbits using horseradish peroxidase conjugated with wheat germ agglutinin (WGA-HRP) as a retrograde and anterograde neuronal tracer. Injections of 1% WGA-HRP were centered in the phrenic nucleus in the C4-C5 ventral horn in 4 rabbits to identify pontomedullary nuclear groups that contain neurons projecting to the midcervical spinal cord. Regions of the rabbit brainstem that are homologous to the ventral respiratory group (VRG), dorsal respiratory group (DRG), Bötzinger Complex (BötC) and Kölliker-Fuse nucleus in the cat and rat were shown to provide the major pontomedullary projections to the phrenic nucleus. Injections of WGA-HRP into physiologically identified locations within DRG, VRG and BötC anterogradely labelled bulbospinal axons of these groups. These injections produced presumptive terminal labelling in the C4-C5 ventral horn in the region containing the phrenic cell column and the transverse phrenic motoneuron dendrite bundles as defined by WGA-HRP labelling of phrenic motoneurons. These results indicate: 1) The presumptive excitatory (DRG, VRG) and inhibitory (BötC) bulbospinal control of phrenic motoneurons arise from the same medullary respiratory groups in the rabbit as in the cat and rat. 2) The bulbospinal control of phrenic motoneurons is primarily via direct projections to the phrenic motor nucleus, and not through segmental propriospinal interneurons. 3) As in the rat, the bulbospinal contribution of the DRG is less pronounced in the rabbit than in the cat. 4) The rabbit and rat have a slight ipsilateral predominance in their bulbospinal projections to phrenic nucleus; whereas these projections have a contralateral predominance in the cat.

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