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An Electrophysiological And Morphological Study Of Esophageal Motoneurons In Rats

B. Kruszewska, J. Lipski, R. Kanjhan

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Previous anatomic studies have shown that motoneurons supplying the striated musculature of the esophagus form a tightly grouped cluster in the rostral portion of the nucleus ambiguus, known as the compact formation. This study, conducted in anesthetized rats, presents the first in vivo intracellular and extracellular recordings from this group of motoneurons, which were identified by antidromic stimulation directly from the esophagus (latency 7-68 ms). The motoneurons were silent at rest, and those impaled intracellularly (n = 44) showed no respiratory modulation of their membrane potential. Intracellular labelling with Lucifer Yellow (n = 3) or Neurobiotin (n = 15) revealed multipolar somas with longitudinally oriented dendritic trees mainly confined to the compact formation. No axon collaterals were found. When swallowing-like activity was induced by muscarine applied to the dorsal medullary surface, the motoneurons displayed bursting activity, with the majority of bursts occurring during expiration. These results show that antidromic stimulation of esophageal motoneurons with an electrode inserted into the esophagus provides a simple way of identifying these motoneurons. In the absence of pharmacological stimulation, these motoneurons receive no respiratory-modulated synaptic input, in contrast to adjacent motoneurons in the semicompact formation (supplying the upper airways), which are known to display respiratory activity. However, some synchronization of respiratory and swallowing-like activity was observed after pharmacological activation of the swallowing pattern generator in the dorsal medulla.