The hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN) and rostral ventrolateral medulla (RVLM) are key components of a neural network that generates and regulates sympathetic nerve activity (SNA). Although each region has been extensively studied, little is presently known about the in vivo discharge properties of individual PVN neurons that directly innervate the RVLM. Here extracellular recording was performed in anesthetized rats, and antidromic stimulation was used to identify single PVN neurons with axonal projections to the RVLM (n = 94). Neurons were divided into two groups that had either unbranched axons terminating in the RVLM (i.e., PVN-RVLM neurons, n = 65) or collateralized axons targeting both the RVLM and spinal cord [i.e., PVN-RVLM/intermediolateral cell column (IML) neurons, n = 29]. Many PVNRVLM (32/65, 49%) and PVN-RVLM/IML (17/29, 59%) neurons were spontaneously active. The average firing frequency was not different across groups. Spike-triggered averaging revealed that spontaneous discharge of most neurons was temporally correlated with renal SNA (PVN-RVLM: 12/21, 57%; PVN-RVLM/IML: 6/9, 67%). Time histograms triggered by the electrocardiogram (ECG) R-wave indicated that discharge of most cells was also cardiac rhythmic (PVN-RVLM: 25/32, 78%; PVN-RVLM/IML: 10/17, 59%). Raising and lowering arterial blood pressure to increase and decrease arterial baroreceptor input caused a corresponding decrease and increase in firing frequency among cells of both groups (PVN-RVLM: 9/13, 69%; PVNRVLM/IML: 4/4, 100%). These results indicate that PVN-RVLM and PVN-RVLM/IML neurons are both capable of contributing to basal sympathetic activity and its baroreflex modulation.
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