Activation of Phox2b-Expressing Neurons in the Nucleus Tractus Solitarii Drives Breathing in Mice

Fu, CR; Shi, L; Wei, ZA; Yu, HX; Hao, YC; Tian, YM; Liu, YX; Zhang, Y; Zhang, XJ; Yuan, F; Wang, S

Yuan, F; Wang, S (reprint author), Hebei Med Univ, Dept Physiol, Shijiazhuang 050017, Hebei, Peoples R China.; Wang, S (reprint author), Hebei Med Univ, Neurosci Ctr, Shijiazhuang 050017, Hebei, Peoples R China.

JOURNAL OF NEUROSCIENCE, 2019; 39 (15): 2837


The nucleus tractus solitarii (NTS) is implicated in the control of breathing, but the neuronal phenotype and circuit mechanism involved in such a physiological function remain incompletely understood. This study focused on the respiratory role of paired-like homeobox 2b gene (Phox2b)-expressing NTS neurons and sought to determine whether selective stimulation of this set of neurons activates breathing in male mice. A Cre-dependent vector encoding a Gq-coupled human M3 muscarinic receptor (hM3Dq) was microinjected into the NTS of Phox2b-Cre transgenic mice. The hM3Dq-transduced neurons were pharmacologically activated in conscious mice while respiratory effects were measured by plethysmography. We demonstrate that chemogenetic stimulation of Phox2b-expressing NTS neurons significantly increased baseline minute volume via an increase in respiratory frequency rather than tidal volume. Chemogenetic stimulation also synergized with moderate CO2 stimulation to enhance pulmonary ventilatory response. Selective ablation of Phox2b-expressing NTS neurons notably attenuated a hypercapnic ventilatory response. Moreover, histological evidence revealed that stimulation of Phox2b-expressing NTS neurons increased neuronal activity of the preBotzinger complex. Finally, we presented the neuroanatomical evidence of direct projection of Phox2b-expressing NTS neurons to putative respiratory central pattern generator. Overall, these findings suggest that selective activation of Phox2b-expressing NTS neurons potentiates baseline pulmonary ventilation via an excitatory drive to respiratory central pattern generator and this group of neurons is also required for the hypercapnic ventilatory response.

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