Journal of neurophysiology

Nicotine enhances inhibition of mouse vagal motor neurons by modulating excitability of premotor GABAergic neurons in the nucleus tractus solitarii.

PMID 25429117


The caudal nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS) serves as the site of the first synapse for visceral sensory inputs to the central nervous system. The NTS sends functional projections to multiple brain nuclei, with gastric-related projections primarily targeting the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus (DMV). Previous studies have demonstrated that the majority of caudal NTS neurons that project to the DMV respond robustly to nicotine and express nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). However, the cytochemical identity and relationship with specific viscera of DMV-projecting, nicotine-responsive caudal NTS neurons have not been determined. The present study used transgenic mice that express enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) under a GAD67 promoter in a subset of GABAergic neurons, in vivo retrograde pseudorabies viral labeling to identify gastric-related vagal complex neurons, and patch-clamp electrophysiology in acute brain stem slices to test the hypothesis that gastric-related and GABAergic inhibitory synaptic input to the DMV from the caudal NTS is under a robust modulatory control by nAChRs. Our results suggest that activation of nAChRs in the caudal NTS, but not DMV, potentiates GABAergic, but not glutamatergic, input to the DMV. Gastric-related caudal NTS and DMV neurons are directly involved in this nicotine-sensitive circuitry. Understanding the central patterns of nicotinic modulation of visceral sensory-motor circuitry may help develop therapeutic interventions to restore autonomic homeostasis in patients with autonomic impairments.