Neurokinin-1 receptor-immunoreactive neurons of the ventral respiratory group in the rat



The rostral end of the ventral respiratory group (VRG) contains neurons that are intensely neurokinin-1 receptor (NK1R) immunoreactive (ir). It has been theorized that some of these cells might be critical to respiratory rhythmogenesis (Gray et al. [1999] Science 286:1566–1568). In the present study we determined what major transmitter these NK1R-ir cells make and whether they are bulbospinal or propriomedullary. NK1R-ir neurons were found in the VRG between Bregma levels −11.7 and −13.6 mm. The highest concentration was found between Bregma −12.3 and −13.0 mm. This region overlaps with the pre-Bötzinger complex (pre-BötC) as it was found to contain many pre-inspiratory neurons, few E2-expiratory neurons, and no I-incremental neurons. VRG NK1R-ir neurons contain neither tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) nor choline acetyl-transferase (ChAT) immunoreactivity, although dual-labeled neurons were found elsewhere within the rostral medulla. GAD67 mRNA was commonly detected in the ventrolateral medulla (VLM) but rarely in the NK1R-ir neurons of the pre-BötC region (6 % of somatic profiles). GlyT2 mRNA was commonly found in the pre-BötC region but rarely within NK1R-ir neurons (1.3 %). Up to 40% of VRG NK1R-ir neurons were retrogradely labeled by Fluoro-Gold (FG) injected in the contralateral pre-BötC region. Some NK1R-ir VRG neurons located caudal to Bregma −12.6 mm were retrogradely labeled by FG injected in the spinal cord (C4–C5, T2–T4). In sum, NK1R immunoreactivity is present in many types of ventral medullary neurons. Within the VRG proper, NK1R-ir neurons are concentrated in an area that overlaps with the pre-BötC. Within this limited region of the VRG, NK1R-ir neurons are neither cholinergic nor catecholaminergic, and very few are γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic or glycinergic. The data suggest that most NK1R-ir neurons of the pre-BötC region are excitatory. Furthermore, the more rostral NK1R-ir cells are propriomedullary, whereas some of the caudal ones project to the spinal cord. J. Comp. Neurol. 434:128–146, 2001. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.