A specialized serotonergic neuron subtype transduces chemosensory signals and regulates breathing
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CitationBrust, Rachael Danielle. 2014. A specialized serotonergic neuron subtype transduces chemosensory signals and regulates breathing. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
AbstractSerotonergic neurons modulate a wide range of behaviors and functions, from mood and aggression to vital autonomic processes like heart rate, respiratory dynamics, and body temperature. We hypothesize that this broad scope reflects the collective actions of many functionally and molecularly distinct subtypes of serotonergic neurons, each with specialized roles in different neural processes. Supporting this idea are examples of heterogeneity among serotonergic neurons with respect to developmental origin, biophysical properties, and molecular expression; yet deciphering the functional and behavioral relevance of these differences has been challenging. In order to better understand serotonergic system organization, we have developed and applied a set of mouse genetic tools to subdivide serotonergic neurons into groups based on molecular criteria, and then to query these subtypes for differences with respect to biophysical properties, hodology, gene expression, and whole animal function. We applied these tools in a stage-wise fashion, from neural system en masse, as reference, and then to specific serotonergic neuron subtypes. From this, we have established that serotonergic neurons play key roles in at least two life-sustaining reflexes - the respiratory chemoreflex (breathing modulation to keep tissue PCO2/pH within physiological limits) and body temperature regulation. We found that chemoreflex modulation, but not body temperature regulation, maps to a specific serotonergic neuron subtype - that subtype with a developmental history of Egr2 gene expression. Further, in brain slice preparations, we found that this subtype is chemosensitive, increasing firing rate in response to conditions of hypercapnic acidosis. Thus, in vivo, Egr2-serotonergic neurons likely transduce chemosensory information into action potential firing to increase respiratory drive and ultimately breathing. Further, we found that Egr2-serotonergic neurons project selectively to respiratory nuclei involved in PCO2/pH sensory signal transduction, but not primary respiratory motor nuclei. This indicates that the serotonergic system has distinct sensory and motor divisions - another unexpected finding. In summary, these results establish a previously unappreciated functional modularity and organization to the serotonergic system, and open up potential for tailored function-specific therapeutic strategies, for example here as relates to disorders of respiratory homeostasis or thermoregulation.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:12274389
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