The regional organization of the ventral respiratory group (VRG) was examined with respect to generation of respiratory rhythm (breathing frequency) versus control of the respiratory motor pattern on individual nerves. In urethane-anaesthetized, neuromuscularly blocked and vagotomized Sprague-Dawley rats, arterial blood pressure (ABP) and respiratory motor outputs (phrenic, pharyngeal branch of the vagus, or superior laryngeal nerves) were recorded. The VRG organization was mapped systematically using injections of the excitatory amino acid DL-homocysteic acid (DLH; 5-20 mM, 2-6 nl) from single- or double-barrel pipettes at 100-200 μm intervals between the facial nucleus and the calamus scriptorius. Recording of respiratory neurons through the injection pipette ensured that the pipette was located within the VRG. At the end of each experiment, the injection pipette was used to make an electrical lesion, thereby marking the electrode position for subsequent histological reconstruction of injection sites. Four rostrocaudal regions were identified: (1) a rostral bradypnoea area, at the level of the Bötzinger complex, in which respiratory rhythm slowed and ABP increased, (2) a tachypnoea/dysrhythmia area, at the level of the preBötzinger complex, in which breathing rate either increased or became irregular, with little or no change in ABP, (3) a caudal bradypnoea area at the level of the anterior part of the rostral VRG in which ABP decreased and (4) a caudal 'no effect' region in the posterior part of the rostral VRG. The peak amplitude of phrenic nerve activity decreased with injections into all three rostral regions. Changes in respiratory rhythm were associated with opposite changes in inspiratory (TI) and expiratory (TE) durations after injections into either the Bötzinger complex or anterior rostral VRG, while both TI and TE decreased after injections into the preBötzinger complex. Effects on selected cranial nerves were similar to those on the phrenic nerve except that tonic activity was elicited on the superior larygneal nerve ipsilateral to injections in the Bötzinger complex and on the pharyngeal branch of the vagus ipsilateral to injections in the preBötzinger complex. These data reinforce the subdivision of the VRG into functionally distinct compartments and suggest that a further subdivision of the rostral VRG is warranted. They also suggest that region-specific influences, especially on the pattern of cranial motor discharge, can be used to assist the identification of recording sites within the VRG. However, the postulated clear functional separation of rhythm- versus pattern-generating regions was not supported.
ASJC Scopus subject areas