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J Neurosci. 2017 Nov 29;37(48):11744-11757. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2055-17.2017. Epub 2017 Oct 24.

Neuromedin B Expression Defines the Mouse Retrotrapezoid Nucleus.

Author information

Department of Pharmacology.
Department of Pharmacology,
Center for Public Health Genomics.
Department of Public Health Sciences, and.
School of Medicine Bioinformatics Core, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia 22908.


The retrotrapezoid nucleus (RTN) consists, by definition, of Phox2b-expressing, glutamatergic, non-catecholaminergic, noncholinergic neurons located in the parafacial region of the medulla oblongata. An unknown proportion of RTN neurons are central respiratory chemoreceptors and there is mounting evidence for biochemical diversity among these cells. Here, we used multiplexed in situ hybridization and single-cell RNA-Seq in male and female mice to provide a more comprehensive view of the phenotypic diversity of RTN neurons. We now demonstrate that the RTN of mice can be identified with a single and specific marker, Neuromedin B mRNA (Nmb). Most (∼75%) RTN neurons express low-to-moderate levels of Nmb and display chemoreceptor properties. Namely they are activated by hypercapnia, but not by hypoxia, and express proton sensors, TASK-2 and Gpr4. These Nmb-low RTN neurons also express varying levels of transcripts for Gal, Penk, and Adcyap1, and receptors for substance P, orexin, serotonin, and ATP. A subset of RTN neurons (∼20-25%), typically larger than average, express very high levels of Nmb mRNA. These Nmb-high RTN neurons do not express Fos after hypercapnia and have low-to-undetectable levels of Kcnk5 or Gpr4 transcripts; they also express Adcyap1, but are essentially devoid of Penk and Gal transcripts. In male rats, Nmb is also a marker of the RTN but, unlike in mice, this gene is expressed by other types of nearby neurons located within the ventromedial medulla. In sum, Nmb is a selective marker of the RTN in rodents; Nmb-low neurons, the vast majority, are central respiratory chemoreceptors, whereas Nmb-high neurons likely have other functions.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Central respiratory chemoreceptors regulate arterial PCO2 by adjusting lung ventilation. Such cells have recently been identified within the retrotrapezoid nucleus (RTN), a brainstem nucleus defined by genetic lineage and a cumbersome combination of markers. Using single-cell RNA-Seq and multiplexed in situ hybridization, we show here that a single marker, Neuromedin B mRNA (Nmb), identifies RTN neurons in rodents. We also suggest that >75% of these Nmb neurons are chemoreceptors because they are strongly activated by hypercapnia and express high levels of proton sensors (Kcnk5 and Gpr4). The other RTN neurons express very high levels of Nmb, but low levels of Kcnk5/Gpr4/pre-pro-galanin/pre-pro-enkephalin, and do not respond to hypercapnia. Their function is unknown.


Gpr4; Neuromedin B; TASK-2; central chemoreceptors; hypercapnia; medulla oblongata

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