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Movement- and behavioral state-dependent activity of pontine reticulospinal neurons

Thankachan, S;Fuller, PM;Lu, J;

Forty-five years ago Shik and colleagues were the first to demonstrate that electrical stimulation of the dorsal pontine reticular formation induced fictive locomotion in decerebrate cats. This supraspinal motor site was subsequently termed the mesencephalic locomotor region (MLR). Cholinergic neurons of the pedunculopontine tegmental nucleus (PPT) have been suggested to form, or at least comprise in part, the neuroanatomical basis for the MLR, but direct evidence is lacking. In an effort to clarify the location and activity profiles of pontine reticulospinal neurons supporting locomotor behaviors, we employed in the present study a retrograde tracing method in combination with single-unit recordings and antidromic spinal cord stimulation as well as characterized the locomotor- and behavioral state-dependent activities of both reticulospinal and non-reticulospinal neurons. The retrograde labeling and antidromic stimulation responses suggested a candidate group of reticulospinal neurons that were non-cholinergic and located just medial to the PPT cholinergic neurons and ventral to the cuneiform nucleus (CnF). Unit recordings from these reticulospinal neurons in freely behaving animals revealed that the preponderance of neurons fired in relation to motor behaviors and that some of these neurons were also active during rapid eye movement sleep. By contrast, non-reticulospinal neurons, which likely included cholinergic neurons, did not exhibit firing activity in relation to motor behaviors. In summary, the present study provides neuroanatomical and electrophysiological evidence that non-cholinergic, pontine reticulospinal neurons may constitute the major component of the long-sought neuroanatomic MLR in mammals.