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Keywords:

  • commissural and ventrolateral subnuclei of the solitary tract nucleus;
  • critical period;
  • lateral paragigantocellular nucleus;
  • nucleus ambiguus;
  • pre-Bötzinger complex;
  • retrotrapezoid nucleus/parafacial respiratory group

Abstract

Previously, we found a transient imbalance between suppressed excitation and enhanced inhibition in the respiratory network of the rat around postnatal days (P) 12–13, a critical period when the hypoxic ventilatory response is at its weakest. The mechanism underlying the imbalance is poorly understood. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and its tyrosine protein kinase B (TrkB) receptors are known to potentiate glutamatergic and attenuate gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic neurotransmission, and BDNF is essential for respiratory development. We hypothesized that the excitation-inhibition imbalance during the critical period stemmed from a reduced expression of BDNF and TrkB at that time within respiratory-related nuclei of the brain stem. An in-depth, semiquantitative immunohistochemical study was undertaken in seven respiratory-related brain stem nuclei and one nonrespiratory nucleus in P0–21 rats. The results indicate that the expressions of BDNF and TrkB: 1) in the pre-Bötzinger complex, nucleus ambiguus, commissural and ventrolateral subnuclei of solitary tract nucleus, and retrotrapezoid nucleus/parafacial respiratory group were significantly reduced at P12, but returned to P11 levels by P14; 2) in the lateral paragigantocellular nucleus and parapyramidal region were increased from P0 to P7, but were strikingly reduced at P10 and plateaued thereafter; and 3) in the nonrespiratory cuneate nucleus showed a gentle plateau throughout the first 3 postnatal weeks, with only a slight decline of BDNF expression after P11. Thus, the significant downregulation of both BDNF and TrkB in respiratory-related nuclei during the critical period may form the basis of, or at least contribute to, the inhibitory-excitatory imbalance within the respiratory network during this time. J. Comp. Neurol. 521:109–129, 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.