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J Neurophysiol. 2001 Jan;85(1):435-8.

Activity of cardiorespiratory networks revealed by transsynaptic virus expressing GFP.

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Department of Pharmacology, George Washington University, Washington, DC 20037, USA.


A fluorescent transneuronal marker capable of labeling individual neurons in a central network while maintaining their normal physiology would permit functional studies of neurons within entire networks responsible for complex behaviors such as cardiorespiratory reflexes. The Bartha strain of pseudorabies virus (PRV), an attenuated swine alpha herpesvirus, can be used as a transsynaptic marker of neural circuits. Bartha PRV invades neuronal networks in the CNS through peripherally projecting axons, replicates in these parent neurons, and then travels transsynaptically to continue labeling the second- and higher-order neurons in a time-dependent manner. A Bartha PRV mutant that expresses green fluorescent protein (GFP) was used to visualize and record from neurons that determine the vagal motor outflow to the heart. Here we show that Bartha PRV-GFP-labeled neurons retain their normal electrophysiological properties and that the labeled baroreflex pathways that control heart rate are unaltered by the virus. This novel transynaptic virus permits in vitro studies of identified neurons within functionally defined neuronal systems including networks that mediate cardiovascular and respiratory function and interactions. We also demonstrate superior laryngeal motorneurons fire spontaneously and synapse on cardiac vagal neurons in the nucleus ambiguus. This cardiorespiratory pathway provides a neural basis of respiratory sinus arrhythmias.

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