Caudal nuclei of the rat nucleus of the solitary tract differentially innervate respiratory compartments within the ventrolateral medulla

Abstract A substantial array of respiratory, cardiovascular, visceral and somatic afferents are relayed via the nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS) to the brainstem (and forebrain). Despite some degree of overlap within the NTS, specificity is maintained in central respiratory reflexes driven by second order afferent relay neurons in the NTS. While the topographic arrangement of respiratory-related afferents targeting the NTS has been extensively investigated, their higher order brainstem targets beyond the NTS has only rarely been defined with any precision. Nonetheless, the various brainstem circuits serving blood gas homeostasis and airway protective reflexes must clearly receive a differential innervation from the NTS in order to evoke stimulus appropriate behavioral responses. Accordingly, we have examined the question of which specific NTS nuclei project to particular compartments within the ventral respiratory column (VRC) of the ventrolateral medulla. Our analyses of NTS labeling after retrograde tracer injections in the VRC and the nearby neuronal groups controlling autonomic function indicate a significant distinction between projections to the Bötzinger complex and preBötzinger complex compared to the remainder of the VRC. Specifically, the caudomedial NTS, including caudal portions of the medial solitary nucleus and the commissural division of NTS project relatively densely to the region of the retrotrapezoid nucleus and rostral ventrolateral medullary nucleus as well as to the rostral ventral respiratory group while avoiding the intervening Bötzinger and preBötzinger complexes. Area postrema appears to demonstrate a pattern of projections similar to that of caudal medial and commissural NTS nuclei. Other, less pronounced differential projections of lateral NTS nuclei to the various VRC compartments are additionally noted.