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Exp Brain Res. 2010 May;203(1):205-11. doi: 10.1007/s00221-010-2197-3. Epub 2010 Feb 26.

Mapping of neural pathways that influence diaphragm activity and project to the lumbar spinal cord in cats.

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  • 1Department of Otolaryngology, University of Pittsburgh, Eye and Ear Institute, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.


During breathing, the diaphragm and abdominal muscles contract out of phase. However, during other behaviors (including vomiting, postural adjustments, and locomotion) simultaneous contractions are required of the diaphragm and other muscle groups including abdominal muscles. Recent studies in cats using transneuronal tracing techniques showed that in addition to neurons in the respiratory groups, cells in the inferior and lateral vestibular nuclei (VN) and medial pontomedullary reticular formation (MRF) influence diaphragm activity. The goal of the present study was to determine whether neurons in these regions have collateralized projections to both diaphragm motoneurons and the lumbar spinal cord. For this purpose, the transneuronal tracer rabies virus was injected into the diaphragm, and the monosynaptic retrograde tracer Fluoro-Gold (FG) was injected into the Th13-L1 spinal segments. A large fraction of MRF and VN neurons (median of 72 and 91%, respectively) that were infected by rabies virus were dual-labeled by FG. These data show that many MRF and VN neurons that influence diaphragm activity also have a projection to the lumbar spinal cord and thus likely are involved in coordinating behaviors that require synchronized contractions of the diaphragm and other muscle groups.

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