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Pontine reticular origin of cholinergic excitatory afferents to the locus coeruleus controlling the gain of vestibulospinal and cervicospinal reflexes in decerebrate cats.

E. Horn, P. d'Ascanio, O. Pompeiano, G. Stampacchia


1. Previous experiments had shown that the medullary inhibitory reticulospinal (mRS) neurons act 180 degrees out-of-phase with respect to the excitatory vestibulospinal (VS) neurons during the vestibular and the neck reflexes involving the limb extensor motoneurons. This finding suggested that the higher the firing rate of the medullary inhibitory RS neurons in the animal at rest, the greater the disinhibition which affects the limb extensor motoneurons during side-down roll tilt of the animal or side-up neck rotation, thus leading to an increased gain of response of limb extensors to sinusoidal stimulation of labyrinth and neck receptors. The gain of these postural reflexes would then represent a sensitive test to evaluate the background discharge of the inhibitory reticulospinal system of the medulla. 2. The discharge of the inhibitory mRS neurons is under the tonic excitatory control of cholinergic pontine reticular formation (pRF) neurons which are also self-excitatory, while these cholinergic pontine neurons are in turn inhibited by the norepinephrine (NE)-containing locus coeruleus (LC) neurons, which are also self-inhibitory due to mechanisms of recurrent and/or lateral inhibition. The present experiments were performed to find out whether cholinergic and cholinoceptive pontine reticular neurons, which are under the inhibitory control of the LC neurons, also send axons to the LC on which they may exert an excitatory influence. This excitatory effect would then counteract the self-inhibitory influence mediated by the NE, which acts on the alpha 2-adrenoceptors distributed on the somatodendritic membrane of the LC neurons. 3. In precollicular decerebrate cats, local injection into the dorsal aspect of the pontine tegmentum of 0.25 microliter of a solution of the muscarinic blocker atropine sulphate at the concentration of 6 micrograms/microliter of sterile saline did neither modify the postural activity in the ipsilateral limbs nor the response gain of the ipsilateral forelimb extensor triceps brachii to sinusoidal stimulation of labyrinth receptors (roll tilt of the animal at 0.15 Hz, ± 10 degrees). These negative results were attributed to the fact that in these preparations the activity of the cholinergic and cholinoceptive pRF neurons and the related inhibitory mRS neurons is very low, due to the tonic discharge of the NE-containing LC neurons, which exert a prominent inhibitory influence on the underlying reticular structures.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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