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J Neurophysiol. 2018 Sep 1;120(3):1135-1142. doi: 10.1152/jn.00600.2017. Epub 2018 May 30.

Developmental nicotine exposure alters glycinergic neurotransmission to hypoglossal motoneurons in neonatal rats.

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Department of Physiology, The University of Arizona , Tucson, Arizona.
Department of Neuroscience, The University of Arizona , Tucson, Arizona.


We tested the hypothesis that nicotine exposure in utero and after birth [developmental nicotine exposure (DNE)] disrupts development of glycinergic synaptic transmission to hypoglossal motoneurons (XIIMNs). Glycinergic spontaneous and miniature inhibitory postsynaptic currents (sIPSC/mIPSC) were recorded from XIIMNs in brain stem slices from 1- to 5-day-old rat pups of either sex, under baseline conditions and following stimulation of nicotinic acetylcholine (ACh) receptors with nicotine (i.e., an acute nicotine challenge). Under baseline conditions, there were no significant effects of DNE on the amplitude or frequency of either sIPSCs or mIPSCs. In addition, DNE did not alter the magnitude of the whole cell current evoked by bath application of glycine, consistent with an absence of change in postsynaptic glycine-mediated conductance. An acute nicotine challenge (bath application of 0.5 μM nicotine) increased sIPSC frequency in the DNE cells, but not control cells. In contrast, nicotine challenge did not change mIPSC frequency in either control or DNE cells. In addition, there were no significant changes in the amplitude of either sIPSCs or mIPSCs in response to nicotine challenge. The increased frequency of sIPSCs in response to an acute nicotine challenge in DNE cells reflects an enhancement of action potential-mediated input from glycinergic interneurons to hypoglossal motoneurons. This could lead to more intense inhibition of hypoglossal motoneurons in response to exogenous nicotine or endogenous ACh. The former would occur with smoking or e-cigarette use while the latter occurs with changes in sleep state and with hypercapnia. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Here we show that perinatal nicotine exposure does not impact baseline glycinergic neurotransmission to hypoglossal motoneurons but enhances glycinergic inputs to hypoglossal motoneurons in response to activation of nicotinic acetylcholine (ACh) receptors with acute nicotine. Given that ACh is the endogenous ligand for nicotinic ACh receptors, the latter reveals a potential mechanism whereby perinatal nicotine exposure alters motor function under conditions where ACh release increases, such as the transition from non-rapid-eye movement to rapid-eye movement sleep, and during hypercapnia.


brain stem; control of breathing; glycine; homeostatic plasticity; hypoglossal motoneron; nicotinic acetylcholine receptor

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