Behavior of VRG neurons during the atonia of RFM sleep induced by pontine carbachol in decerebrate cats
ABSTRACT The microinjection of carbachol into the pons of acute decerebrate cats elicits a REM sleep-like atonia and a profound suppression of respiratory motoneuronal activity (J. Appl. Physiol., 69 (1990) 2280–2289). To assess whether this suppression is mediated by medullary neurons that provide respiratory drive to motoneurons of the respiratory pump muscles (diaphragm and intercostals), we studied the effect of pontine carbachol on the activity of neurons of the ventral respiratory group (VRG) in decerebrate, vagotomized, paralyzed and artificially ventilated cats. VRG neurons were recorded extracellularly along with the activity of phrenic and intercostal (external and internal) nerves. Both inspiratory (I) and expiratory (E) VRG neurons had incrementing, ramp-like bursts of activity during their firing periods and were not vagal motoneurons. Carbachol produced a depression of the peak firing rate in most (42/57) neurons studied. However, five cells showed no change and ten had an increase in activity in spite of consistent depression at the motoneuronal level. For the total population of cells (34 I and 23 E), the peak firing was reduced to 88.5% ± 16.3 (S.D.) of control. The simultaneously recorded phrenic activity was reduced to 77.9% ± 11.5, while inspiratory intercostal activity fell to 63.4% ± 21.6 and expiratory to 23.2% ± 21.2 of control. The carbachol-induced changes in peak firing of both I and E cells were quantitively similar, and positively correlated to changes in peak phrenic activity. Analysis of this correlation suggested that phrenic and intercostal activities will be depressed to some degree by carbachol even when the average VRG cell activity remains unchanged. In addition, our data show that VRG cells may receive a combination of inhibitory and excitatory inputs during the carbachol-induced depression of respiratory motoneurons. Thus, although some disfacilitation from VRG cells may occur, there must be additional inhibitory or disfacilitatory pathways that mediate the decrease in activity of both phrenic and intercostal motoneurons that accompanies the REM sleep-like atonia.