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Effect Of Upper Airway Negative Pressure On Proprioceptive Afferents From The Tongue

A. Brancatisano, P. Davis, T. van der Touw, J. R. Wheatley

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We examined whether receptors in the tongue muscle respond to negative upper airway pressure (NUAP). In six cats, one hypoglossal nerve was cut and its distal end was prepared for single-fiber recording. Twelve afferent fibers were selected for study on the basis of their sensitivity to passive stretch (PS) of the tongue. Fiber discharge frequency was measured during PS of the tongue and after the rapid onset of constant NUAP. During PS of 1–3 cm, firing frequency increased from 17 ± 7 to 40 ± 11 (SE) Hz ( P < 0.01). In addition, 8 of the 12 fibers responded to NUAP (−10 to −30 cmH2O), with firing frequency increasing from 23 ± 9 to 41 ± 9 Hz ( P < 0.001). In two fibers tested, the increase in firing frequency in response to NUAP was not altered by topical anesthesia (10% lignocaine) applied liberally to the entire upper airway mucosa. Our results demonstrate that afferent discharges from the hypoglossal nerve are elicited by 1) stretching of the tongue and 2) NUAP before and after upper airway anesthesia. We speculate that activation of proprioceptive mechanoreceptors in the cat’s tongue provides an additional pathway for the reflex activation of upper airway dilator muscles in response to NUAP, independent of superficially located mucosal mechanoreceptors.