• crossed phrenic pathways;
  • plasticity;
  • rat;
  • respiratory network;
  • rewiring;
  • spinal cord injury


After disruption of the descending respiratory pathways induced by unilateral cervical spinal cord injury (SCI) in rats, the inactivated ipsilateral (ipsi) phrenic nerve (PN) discharge may partially recover following some specific experimental procedures [such as contralateral (contra) phrenicotomy (Phx)]. This phrenic reactivation involves normally silent contra pathways decussating at the level of the phrenic nucleus, but the mechanisms of this crossed phrenic activation are still poorly understood. The present study investigates the contribution of sensory phrenic afferents to this process by comparing the acute effects of ipsi and contra Phx. We show that the phrenic discharge (recorded on intact PNs) was almost completely suppressed 0 h and 3 h after a lateral cervical SCI, but was already spontaneously reactivated after 1 week. This ipsi phrenic activity was enhanced immediately after contra Phx and was completely suppressed by an acute contra cervical section, indicating that it is triggered by crossed phrenic pathways located laterally in the contra spinal cord. Ipsi phrenic activity was also abolished immediately after ipsi Phx that interrupts phrenic sensory afferents, an effect prevented by prior acute ablation of the cervical dorsal root ganglia, indicating that crossed phrenic activation depends on excitatory phrenic sensory afferents but also putatively on inhibitory non-phrenic afferents. On the basis of these data, we propose a new model for crossed phrenic activation after partial cervical injury, with an essential role played by ipsi-activating phrenic sensory afferents.