Rostroventrolateral medulla neurons with commissural projections provide input to sympathetic premotor neurons: anatomical and functional evidence


Correspondence: Dr S. McMullan, as above.



The activity of neurons in the rostral ventrolateral medulla (RVLM) is critical for the generation of vasomotor sympathetic tone. Multiple pre-sympathetic pathways converge on spinally projecting RVLM neurons, but the origin and circumstances in which such inputs are active are poorly understood. We have previously shown that input from the contralateral brainstem contributes to the baseline activity of this population: in the current study we investigate the distribution, phenotype and functional properties of RVLM neurons with commissural projections in the rat. We firstly used retrograde transport of fluorescent microspheres to identify neurons that project to the contralateral RVLM. Labelled neurons were prominent in a longitudinal column that extended over 1 mm caudal from the facial nucleus and contained hybridisation products indicating enkephalin (27%), GABA (15%) and adrenaline (3%) synthesis and included 6% of bulbospinal neurons identified by transport of cholera toxin B. Anterograde transport of fluorescent dextran-conjugate from the contralateral RVLM revealed extensive inputs throughout the RVLM that frequently terminated in close apposition with catecholaminergic and bulbospinal neurons. In urethane-anaesthetised rats we verified that 28/37 neurons antidromically activated by electrical stimulation of the contralateral pressor region were spontaneously active, of which 13 had activity locked to central respiratory drive and 15 displayed ongoing tonic discharge. In six tonically active neurons sympathoexcitatory roles were indicated by spike-triggered averages of splanchnic sympathetic nerve activity. We conclude that neurons in the RVLM project to the contralateral brainstem, form synapses with sympathetic premotor neurons, and have functional properties consistent with sympthoexcitatory function.