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Exp Physiol. 2012 Jan;97(1):20-8. doi: 10.1113/expphysiol.2011.057661. Epub 2011 Oct 7.

Central command: control of cardiac sympathetic and vagal efferent nerve activity and the arterial baroreflex during spontaneous motor behaviour in animals.

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Department of Physiology, Graduate School of Health Sciences, Hiroshima University, Kasumi 1-2-3, Minami-ku, Hiroshima 734-8551, Japan.


Feedforward control by higher brain centres (termed central command) plays a role in the autonomic regulation of the cardiovascular system during exercise. Over the past 20 years, workers in our laboratory have used the precollicular-premammillary decerebrate animal model to identify the neural circuitry involved in the CNS control of cardiac autonomic outflow and arterial baroreflex function. Contrary to the traditional idea that vagal withdrawal at the onset of exercise causes the increase in heart rate, central command did not decrease cardiac vagal efferent nerve activity but did allow cardiac sympathetic efferent nerve activity to produce cardiac acceleration. In addition, central command-evoked inhibition of the aortic baroreceptor-heart rate reflex blunted the baroreflex-mediated bradycardia elicited by aortic nerve stimulation, further increasing the heart rate at the onset of exercise. Spontaneous motor activity and associated cardiovascular responses disappeared in animals decerebrated at the midcollicular level. These findings indicate that the brain region including the caudal diencephalon and extending to the rostral mesencephalon may play a role in generating central command. Bicuculline microinjected into the midbrain ventral tegmental area of decerebrate rats produced a long-lasting repetitive activation of renal sympathetic nerve activity that was synchronized with the motor nerve discharge. When lidocaine was microinjected into the ventral tegmental area, the spontaneous motor activity and associated cardiovascular responses ceased. From these findings, we conclude that cerebral cortical outputs trigger activation of neural circuits within the caudal brain, including the ventral tegmental area, which causes central command to augment cardiac sympathetic outflow at the onset of exercise in decerebrate animal models.

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