The Kölliker-Fuse nucleus gates the postinspiratory phase of the respiratory cycle to control inspiratory off-switch and upper airway resistance in rat

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Lesion or pharmacological manipulation of the dorsolateral pons can transform the breathing pattern to apneusis (pathological prolonged inspiration). Apneusis reflects a disturbed inspiratory off-switch mechanism (IOS) leading to a delayed phase transition from inspiration to expiration. Under intact conditions the IOS is irreversibly mediated via activation of postinspiratory (PI) neurons within the respiratory network. In parallel, populations of laryngeal premotoneurons manifest the IOS by a brief glottal constriction during the PI phase. We investigated effects of pontine excitation (glutamate injection) or temporary lesion after injection of a GABA-receptor agonist (isoguvacine) on the strength of PI-pool activity determined from respiratory motor outputs or kinesiological measurements of laryngeal resistance in a perfused brainstem preparation. Glutamate microinjections into distinct parts of the pontine Kölliker-Fuse nucleus (KF) evoked a tonic excitation of PI-motor activity or sustained laryngeal constriction accompanied by prolongation of the expiratory phase. Subsequent isoguvacine microinjections at the same loci abolished PI-motor or laryngeal constrictor activity, triggered apneusis and established a variable and decreased breathing frequency. In summary, we revealed that excitation or inhibition of defined areas within the KF activated and blocked PI activity and, consequently, IOS. Therefore, we conclude, first, that descending KF inputs are essential to gate PI activity required for a proper pattern formation and phase control within the respiratory network, at least during absence of pulmonary stretch receptor activity and, secondly, that the KF contains large numbers of laryngeal PI premotor neurons that might have a key role in the regulation of upper airway resistance during reflex control and vocalization.

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