Modulation of Bulbospinal Rostral Ventral Lateral Medulla Neurons by Hypoxia/Hypercapnia but Not Medullary Respiratory Activity

Carie R. Boychuk, Amanda L. Woerman, David Mendelowitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Although sympathetic vasomotor discharge has respiratory modulation, the site(s) responsible for this cardiorespiratory interaction is unknown. One likely source for this coupling is the rostral ventral lateral medulla (RVLM), where presympathetic neurons originate in close apposition to respiratory neurons. The current study tested the hypothesis that RVLM bulbospinal neurons are modulated by medullary respiratory network activity using whole-cell patch-clamp electrophysiological recordings of RVLM neurons while simultaneously recording fictive respiratory bursting activity from the hypoglossal rootlet. Additionally, we examined whether challenges to cardiorespiratory function, mainly hypoxia/hypercapnia, alter the activity of bulbospinal neurons and, secondarily, whether changes in synaptic input mediate these responses. Surprisingly, our results indicate that inspiratory-related activity did not modulate glutamatergic, γ-aminobutyric acid-ergic, or glycinergic synaptic events or spontaneous action potential firing in these RVLM neurons. However, hypoxia/hypercapnia reversibly decreased the frequency of γ-aminobutyric acid and glycine inhibitory postsynaptic currents. Glycinergic inhibitory postsynaptic current frequency was depressed from the fifth through the 10th minute, whereas the depression of γ-aminobutyric acid-ergic events became significant only at the 10th minute of hypoxia/hypercapnia. On the basis of spontaneous firing activity, there were 2 populations of RVLM bulbospinal neurons. The firing frequency of low-discharging RVLM neurons was facilitated by hypoxia/hypercapnia, and this increase depended on reduced inhibitory neurotransmission. The firing frequency in RVLM neurons with high-discharge rates was inhibited, independent of synaptic input, by hypoxia/hypercapnia. This article demonstrates that sympathetic-respiratory coupling is not active in the neonatal brain stem slice, and reductions in inhibitory neurotransmission to low spontaneously active bulbospinal RVLM neurons are responsible for hypoxia/hypercapnia-elicited increases in activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1491-1497
Number of pages7
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • bulbospinal
  • cardiorespiratory
  • hypercapnia
  • hypoxia
  • respiration
  • rostral ventral lateral medulla
  • sympathetic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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