- 1Many processes in mammalian and invertebrate central nervous systems exhibit habituation and/or sensitization of their responses to repetitive stimuli. Here, we studied the adaptive behaviours of the respiratory pattern generator in rat on repetitive vagal-afferent stimulation and compared these behaviours obtained in vivo with the reported effects of such stimuli on synaptic transmission in the corresponding signal pathway in vitro.
- 2Sustained (1 min) electrical pulsed stimulation of the vagus nerve elicited the classic Hering-Breuer (HB) reflex slowing of the respiratory rhythm followed by a bi-exponential recovery, and a post-stimulus rebound (PR). The recovery from the HB reflex satisfied the classic criteria of habituation.
- 3The fast component of the recovery and the PR were abolished by systemic administration of an NMDA receptor antagonist or electrolytic lesioning of the pontine Kölliker-Fuse nucleus. The characteristics of the fast recovery and PR suggest a vagally induced desensitization of the NMDA receptor-dependent pontine input to the respiratory pattern generator.
- 4The slow component of recovery persisted after both experimental interventions and accounted for the habituation to the vagal input. The characteristics of the slow recovery in vivo were reminiscent of the reported synaptic accommodation in vitro in the medullary region where vagal afferents terminate.
- 5The habituation of vagal input and desensitization of pontine input act in concert to offset the HB reflex. Such simultaneous habituation-desensitization in parallel neural pathways with differing sensitivities to NMDA receptor activation represent a hitherto unknown pairing of dual non-associative learning processes in the mammalian brain.