Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology
Limited data are available regarding the spinal projections of afferent fibers in the phrenic nerve. We describe a method that robustly labels phrenic afferent spinal projections in adult rats. The proximal end of the cut phrenic nerve was secured in a microtube filled with a transganglionic tracer (cholera toxin -subunit, CT-, or Cascade Blue) and tissues harvested 96-h later. Robust CT- labeling occurred in C3-C5 dorsal root ganglia cell bodies and phrenic afferent projections were identified in the mid-cervical dorsal horn (laminae I-III), intermediate grey matter (laminae IV, VII) and near the central canal (laminae X). Afferent fiber labeling was reduced or absent when CT- was delivered to the intrapleural space or directly to the hemidiaphragm. Soaking the phrenic nerve with Cascade Blue also produced robust labeling of mid-cervical dorsal root ganglia cells bodies, and primary afferent fibers were observed in spinal grey matter and dorsal white matter. Our results show that the ‘nerve soak’ method effectively labels both phrenic motoneurons and phrenic afferent projections, and show that primary afferents project throughout the ipsilateral mid-cervical gray matter.