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Neonatal maternal separation and enhancement of the inspiratory (phrenic) response to hypoxia in adult rats: disruption of GABAergic neurotransmission in the nucleus tractus solitarius


Dr R. Kinkead, Centre de Recherche Hôpital St-François d'Assise, 10 rue de l'Espinay, Québec, QC, Canada G1L 3L5.


Neonatal maternal separation (NMS) alters respiratory control development. Adult male rats previously subjected to NMS show a hypoxic ventilatory response 25% greater than controls. During hypoxia, γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) release within the nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS) modulates the magnitude of the ventilatory response. Because development of GABAergic receptors is sensitive to NMS, we tested the hypothesis that in adults, a change in responsiveness to GABA within the NTS contributes to NMS-related enhancement of the inspiratory (phrenic) response to hypoxia. Pups subjected to NMS were placed in an incubator for 3 h/day for 10 consecutive days [postnatal days 3 to 12]. Controls were undisturbed. Adult (8–10 weeks old) rats were anaesthetized (urethane; 1.6 g/kg), paralysed and artificially ventilated to record phrenic activity. Rats either received a 50-nL microinjection of GABA (5 µm) or phosphate-buffered saline (sham) within the caudal NTS, or no injection prior to being exposed to hypoxia (FiO2 = 0.12; 5 min). NMS enhanced both the frequency and amplitude components of the phrenic response to hypoxia vs controls. GABA microinjection attenuated the phrenic responses in NMS rats only. This result is supported by ligand binding autoradiography results showing that the number of GABAA receptors within the NTS was 69% greater in NMS vs controls. Despite this increase, the phrenic response to hypoxia of NMS rats is larger than controls, suggesting that the higher responsiveness to GABA microinjection within the NTS is part of a mechanism that aims to compensate for: (i) a deficient GABAergic modulation; (ii) enhancement of excitatory inputs converging onto this structure; or (iii) both.