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Brain Stem Control Of Swallowing: Neuronal Network And Cellular Mechanisms

André Jean

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Swallowing movements are produced by a central pattern generator located in the medulla oblongata. It has been established on the basis of microelectrode recordings that the swallowing network includes two main groups of neurons. One group is located within the dorsal medulla and contains the generator neurons involved in triggering, shaping, and timing the sequential or rhythmic swallowing pattern. Interestingly, these generator neurons are situated within a primary sensory relay, that is, the nucleus tractus solitarii. The second group is located in the ventrolateral medulla and contains switching neurons, which distribute the swallowing drive to the various pools of motoneurons involved in swallowing. This review focuses on the brain stem mechanisms underlying the generation of sequential and rhythmic swallowing movements. It analyzes the neuronal circuitry, the cellular properties of neurons, and the neurotransmitters possibly involved, as well as the peripheral and central inputs which shape the output of the network appropriately so that the swallowing movements correspond to the bolus to be swallowed. The mechanisms possibly involved in pattern generation and the possible flexibility of the swallowing central pattern generator are discussed.