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Characterizing The Spontaneous Blink Generator: An Animal Model

Jaime Kaminer, A. Powers, Kyle G. Horn, C. Hui, C. Evinger
Published 2011 · Psychology, Medicine

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Although spontaneous blinking is one of the most frequent human movements, little is known about its neural basis. We developed a rat model of spontaneous blinking to identify and better characterize the spontaneous blink generator. We monitored spontaneous blinking for 55 min periods in normal conditions and after the induction of mild dry eye or dopaminergic drug challenges. The normal spontaneous blink rate was 5.3 ± 0.3 blinks/min. Dry eye or 1 mg/kg apomorphine significantly increased and 0.1 mg/kg haloperidol significantly decreased the blink rate. Additional analyses revealed a consistent temporal organization to spontaneous blinking with a median 750 s period that was independent of the spontaneous blink rate. Dry eye and dopaminergic challenges significantly modified the regularity of the normal pattern of episodes of frequent blinking interspersed with intervals having few blinks. Dry eye and apomorphine enhanced the regularity of this pattern, whereas haloperidol reduced its regularity. The simplest explanation for our data is that the spinal trigeminal complex is a critical element in the generation of spontaneous blinks, incorporating reflex blinks from dry eye and indirect basal ganglia inputs into the blink generator. Although human subjects exhibited a higher average blink rate (17.6 ± 2.4) than rats, the temporal pattern of spontaneous blinking was qualitatively similar for both species. These data demonstrate that rats are an appropriate model for investigating the neural basis of human spontaneous blinking and suggest that the spinal trigeminal complex is a major element in the spontaneous blink generator.
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