Hypoxia activates nucleus tractus solitarii neurons projecting to the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus

Abstract Peripheral chemoreceptor afferent information is sent to the nucleus tractus solitarii (nTS), integrated, and relayed to other brain regions to alter cardiorespiratory function. The nTS projects to the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN), but activation and phenotype of these projections during chemoreflex stimulation is unknown. We hypothesized that activation of PVN-projecting nTS neurons occurs primarily at high intensities of hypoxia. We assessed ventilation and cardiovascular parameters in response to increasing severities of hypoxia. Retrograde tracers were used to label nTS PVN-projecting neurons and, in some rats, rostral ventrolateral medulla (RVLM)-projecting neurons. Immunohistochemistry was performed to identify nTS cells that were activated (Fos-immunoreactive, Fos-IR), catecholaminergic, and GABAergic following hypoxia. Conscious rats underwent 3 h normoxia (n = 4, 21% O2) or acute hypoxia (12, 10, or 8% O2; n = 5 each). Hypoxia increased ventilation and the number of Fos-IR nTS cells (21%, 13 ± 2; 12%, 58 ± 4; 10%, 166 ± 22; 8%, 186 ± 6). Fos expression after 10% O2 was similar whether arterial pressure was allowed to decrease (−13 ± 1 mmHg) or was held constant. The percentage of PVN-projecting cells activated was intensity dependent, but contrary to our hypothesis, PVN-projecting nTS cells exhibiting Fos-IR were found at all hypoxic intensities. Notably, at all intensities of hypoxia, ∼75% of the activated PVN-projecting nTS neurons were catecholaminergic. Compared with RVLM-projecting cells, a greater percentage of PVN-projecting nTS cells was activated by 10% O2. Data suggest that increasing hypoxic intensity activates nTS PVN-projecting cells, especially catecholaminergic, PVN-projecting neurons. The nTS to PVN catecholaminergic pathway may be critical even at lower levels of chemoreflex activation and more important to cardiorespiratory responses than previously considered.