Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 37061721
Link to DOI – 10.1186/s12915-023-01575-5
BMC Biol 2023 Apr; 21(1): 83
Breathing is a singularly robust behavior, yet this motor pattern is continuously modulated at slow and fast timescales to maintain blood-gas homeostasis, while intercalating orofacial behaviors. This functional multiplexing goes beyond the rhythmogenic function that is typically ascribed to medullary respiration-modulated networks and may explain lack of progress in identifying the mechanism and constituents of the respiratory rhythm generator. By recording optically along the ventral respiratory column in medulla, we found convergent evidence that rhythmogenic function is distributed over a dispersed and heterogeneous network that is synchronized by electrotonic coupling across a neuronal syncytium. First, high-speed recordings revealed that inspiratory onset occurred synchronously along the column and did not emanate from a rhythmogenic core. Second, following synaptic isolation, synchronized stationary rhythmic activity was detected along the column. This activity was attenuated following gap junction blockade and was silenced by tetrodotoxin. The layering of syncytial and synaptic coupling complicates identification of rhythmogenic mechanism, while enabling functional multiplexing.