The preBötzinger complex as a hub for network activity along the ventral respiratory column in the neonate rat.
In vertebrates, respiratory control is ascribed to heterogeneous respiration-modulated neurons along the Ventral Respiratory Column (VRC) in medulla, which includes the preBötzinger Complex (preBötC), the putative respiratory rhythm generator. Here, the functional anatomy of the VRC was characterized via optical recordings in the sagittaly sectioned neonate rat hindbrain, at sampling rates permitting coupling estimation between neuron pairs, so that each neuron was described using unitary, neuron-system, and coupling attributes. Structured coupling relations in local networks, significantly oriented coupling in the peri-inspiratory interval detected in pooled data, and significant correlations between firing rate and expiratory duration in subsets of neurons revealed network regulation at multiple timescales. Spatially averaged neuronal attributes, including coupling vectors, revealed a sharp boundary at the rostral margin of the preBötC, as well as other functional anatomical features congruent with identified structures, including the parafacial respiratory group and the nucleus ambiguus. Cluster analysis of attributes identified two spatially compact, homogenous groups: the first overlapped with the preBötC, and was characterized by strong respiratory modulation and dense bidirectional coupling with itself and other groups, consistent with a central role for the preBötC in respiratory control; the second lay between preBötC and the facial nucleus, and was characterized by weak respiratory modulation and weak coupling with other respiratory neurons, which is congruent with cardiovascular regulatory networks that are found in this region. Other groups identified using cluster analysis suggested that networks along VRC regulated expiratory duration, and the transition to and from inspiration, but these groups were heterogeneous and anatomically dispersed. Thus, by recording local networks in parallel, this study found evidence for respiratory regulation at multiple timescales along the VRC, as well as a role for the preBötC in the integration of functionally disparate respiratory neurons.